Big Apple Circus
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Big Apple Circus|
|Circus name||Big Apple Circus|
|Founder(s)||Paul Binder & Michael Christensen|
|Ringmaster(s)||John Kennedy Kane|
Gregory Fedin and his then wife Nina Krasavina started a circus school to train future "first" generation circus performers. Gregory and Nina were born and trained in Russia. They started the small school in a lower Manhattan loft.
The circus couple worked with Paul Binder and Michael Christensen to develop the Big Apple Circus following the European style "one ring" circus. In 1977, they located and secured an open ground area, in Battery Park, where the Big Apple Circus debuted. Headlining the early shows was Paul Lubin (Single Trapezist), Ethel Jennier (Dog Act), a tight wire number, Michael and Paul (Jugglers and Clowns), the Back Street Flyers, Mia and Jessie (double trapeze) and a host of performers. Paul Binder and Michael Christensen in the late 1960s performed together in the "San Francisco Mime Troupe".
During 1978 the circus moved from Manhattan. By 1979, two circus arts schools had been opened with money raised from the circus shows.
The Big Apple Circus began the 1980s a special holiday celebration in honor of the circus and its staff, that continued for 35 years.
In 1981, the circus began performing at Damrosch Park of Lincoln Center for the first time, continuing until 2015. In 1982, the circus won a silver medal at a circus performing competition held in Paris.  1983 saw the circus begin to tour, as tours across New England began to be arranged. The circus also received an Obie award that year.
By 1984, the New York School for Circus Arts/Big Apple Circus relocated to East Harlem (1 East 104th Street). The New York School for Circus Arts - in conjunction with the NYC Public School system and ArtsConnection - established the Young Talent Circus Training Program (Mr. Richard Levy's brain-child). The circus program mission was to teach talented children of diverse economic communities circus arts. One of the goals was to nurture and develop talent into potential circus performers. A core group of young circus "talent" participated in a circus competition resulting in a "Gold Medal" award. Three years later another group from the pre-professional circus program (located in the Harbor School for the Performing Arts in East Harlem) would compete in the II Rampe International Circus School Competition in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The New York School for Circus Arts technical and artistic faculty included: Mr. Philip Beder (trampoline, tumbling, acrobatics and gymnastics), Mr. Abel Shark (Back Street Flyer), Mrs. Irina Goldstein (trapeze, acrobatics), Ms. Rosalinda Rojas (aerial, ground acrobatics and choreographer), and Mr. Sasha Pavlata as guest instructor and circus specialist. In 1985, the famous Boston Pops teamed up with Big Apple Circus for an extraordinary collaboration and live performance. Also in 1985 and for the next few years performers Michael Christensen (Big Apple), Deni LaCombe (Big Apple and Cirque Du Soleil), Carlos Guity (Big Apple), Rosalinda Rojas (Big Apple and NYSCA) appear as guest artists with the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center (Manon, Turandot and Macbeth).  One of the biggest steps in the institution's history was taken in 1986, when the circus opened the Clown Care unit unit, a group of professional clowns, trained extensively in hospital procedures, circus skills, and improvisation, make rounds as "clown doctors."
The circus celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1987 with a big celebrations held during the year. A new tent and seating system added. Topping the tenth anniversary celebrations was a prestigious silver crown, which the circus won in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The celebration also added six acrobats/ jugglers showcased their talent at the International Circus School competition in Monte Carlo. The creative and technical (dance and acrobatic) projected was headed by Rosalinda Rojas. Carlos Guity and James Clowny were the two lead pre-professional competitors. Many of these New York School for Circus Arts students advanced to international professional circus careers.
During 1988 season, the Big Apple Circus participated in the first circus collaboration between China and the United States in history. "East Meets West" debut at the Lincoln Center Damrosch Park Winter Season. Paul Binder received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Dartmouth College that year.
In 1989, NYNEX, telephone company, started to sponsor metropolitan New York tours to residents of the area and tourists as well. The tour included a trip to the Big Apple Circus' grounds. The circus and some of its performers were showcased on a Woody Allen movie, Alice.
By 1996, there was increased interest in Big Apple Circus and its performers in cities outside the New York/New England area. This was in part due to the circus' exposure in the Allen film.. In 1996 traveled to Chicago and Columbus. Michael Christensen received two more awards, including one named after Red Skelton.
The Harlem Hospital Center, founded with funds that came from the Big Apple Circus, was opened that year, and the hospital's pediatric area in particular became a headlining facility, as professional performers specially trained as "clown doctors" would visit perform for patients. HBO aired a special documentary about the circus that year also.
In 1991, Big Apple Circus' performers participated in a collaboration between American and Russian circus performers. That same year, Paul Binder was given a presidential medal of achievement by Dartmouth, as well as a doctorate in fine arts by the Pratt Institute.
In 1993, the circus set a new attendance record. A new tent was purchased, and Michael Christensen was given a Parenting Achievement award by Parents magazine, to recognize his work with the Clown Care Foundation.
Gary Dunning became the Big Circus' executive director in 1994. Meanwhile, Christensen received another award, this one the "Sullivan Trail Sertoma's Club Service to Mankind Award". A creative Center campaign was announced, the coffee brand Chock full o'Nuts began sponsoring the circus, and a new mark was set as far as most funds received during one year. 
Peter T. Grauer became the circus' Chairman in 1995, replacing Patricia Rosenwald.,
1997 saw new attendance records set, as an estimated 170,000 people went to see the circus' "Medicine Show" production over a total of 114 New York City performances. Clown Care completed 150,000 hospital visits in one year for the first time in the program's history, and Paul Binder received an honorary doctorate from Rhode Island College.
During 1998, the circus was able to break attendance records again, as it celebrated twenty years of operation with engagements at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and in Boston. The Boston engagement was particularly pleasant for the circus' performers, as it was one of the longest stays in that city that they had ever experienced. TJ Maxx, a major American company, began to sponsor Big Apple Circus appearances in Chicago and in Atlanta by bringing the circus' "Circus of the Senses" to those cities. Circus of the Senses is a circus performance specifically geared towards children with special needs. Sign language interpreters and sound augmentation for deaf patrons allow the audience to experience the circus as never before. In 1999, over 6,000 children took advantage of these performances.
In 2000, Binder and Christensen were declared "Living Landmarks" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Once again, "Circus of the Senses" attracted a large number of special children, with 9,000 kids participating. The circus dropped plans for a second unit that was to play in theaters after less than successful financial results during a trial run.
2001 the circus saw the best known performer, clown "Grandma" (Barry Lubin), inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame.   A new seating system was installed in the circus big top, and, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the circus opened its "Dreams of a City" show, which was dedicated to the City of New York. Regular company members included Regina Dobrovitskaya, Andrey Manchev, Valdis Yanovski, and Virgile Peyramaure, all of whom did various acrobatic acts, often doing acts with each other. Only Manchev is still with the show as of 2012.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed November 1, 2002, as "Big Apple Circus Day". A newsletter, The circus celebrated its 25th anniversary with a documentary film about the creation and production of that year's show.
Carnevale!, directed by Raffaele De Ritis from Italy and choreographed by Jonathan Cerullo, show actors and circus performers Pedro Carrillo and Alesya Gulevich entered the Guinness Book of World Records when, in 2003, they set records, at the same moment, in their different specialities: Carrillo skipped a rope on the high wire 1,323 times in a row, and Gulevich twirled 99 hula hoops at the same time. "Circus to Go," a travelling stage show, allowed Big Apple Circus to reach new communities. The company ventured to the American Western states for the first time. Michael Christensen, meanwhile, received another honorary certificate, when he was given the "Distinguished Alumni Award" by the University of Washington's arts department. He was also given an award by Exceptional Parents magazine, presented during a Baltimore Orioles baseball home game.
In the 2008-2009 season, filming of a PBS documentary occurred. The documentary, titled "Circus", portrays the lives of not only the performers, but the crew as well. On November 2, 2010, PBS began to air the six-part event. Though each deal with a specific theme, they are also told in a chronological order. The six parts are "First of May", "One Ring Family", "Change On", "Survival of the Fittest", "Born to be Circus", and "Down the Road".
On December 2, 2008, Britney Spears performed her hits Circus & Womanizer in a televised promotion concert on Good Morning America at the Big Apple Circus. The Big Apple Circus went on to become the opening act on her phenomenally successful The Circus Starring Britney Spears world tour.
The 2010-2011 season show was titled "Dance On", while the 2011-2012 season show was themed "Dream Big" and was the farewell tour for the clown character Grandma. Other 2011-2012 performers included the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe, comedy illusionists Scott & Muriel, juggler Dimitry Chernov, Melaine Chy, the Flying Cortes Trapeze troupe, Anna Volodko on the aerial rope, and animal trainer Jenny Vidbel.
In 2016, it was announced that for the first time since 1981 the circus will not run for the 2016 holiday season. The poor economy has hit the circus hard and public performances are ending. Fundraising goal for 2016 is $2 million to keep open, but only half of the funds needed have been raised.
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