This season's Big Apple Circus, "Legendarium," blends a little French into its New York accent. Celebrating the history of this family-friendly art form, the show's clever designs and wonderful live band carry the audience back to 1859 when Jules Leotard performed the first flying trapeze act in Paris and gave his name to the ubiquitous dancewear.


Ringmaster John Kennedy Kane's big, deep voice keeps us apprised of the action, but everything else is wordless: acrobats jump over a pair of oxen, a dozen gorgeous horses circle in elaborate patterns, a beautiful contortionist ties herself in knots and shoots an arrow -- with her feet!


Everybody dances. The band plays Gershwin and Borodin, and trapeze artists keep us both terrified and thrilled with our hearts in our mouths. The pleasures of this year's edition are subtle, delighting circus scholars as much as they do kids watching with wide-eyed wonder.


Only the clowns fall flat; this year we miss Grandma, who retired in 2011. The new Acrobuffos strike the wrong tone for this crowd, relying on sexual innuendo and body image insult to get laughs.


If you go

Big Apple Circus ‘Legendarium’

Through Jan. 13

Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center

62nd St. between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues

$25-$175, 888-541-3750