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Cunningham Park hosts the Big Apple Circus

- Paul Binder, Big Apple Circus founder and artistic directorAt the circus, now in Fresh Meadows' Cunningham Park, the award-winning cast of the Big Apple Circus celebration includes trapeze artists swinging swiftly through space, a man juggling ping-pong balls with his mouth, and a woman dancing with dogs. Acrobats flip fearlessly into precarious chairs, and clowns command laughter without a word. In every act of this year's show, "Picturesque," famous artwork comes to life, including the harlequins of Picasso, the ballerinas of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec's can-can dancers. It's a continuous kaleidoscope of beauty and daring, precision and pratfalls.The clown Grandma is played by a man, Barry Lubin. During the show, Grandma is here, there and everywhere, interacting with the audience, mimicking performers and lipsynching. The antics of the Russian clown Vallery include repeatedly throwing a ball to the audience, as he seeks people to toss it back onto the stick in his mouth. At one point, he led a small boy into the ring for this challenge, and when he succeeded, there was a resounding response of cheers and applause.There's an expression, "as impossible as herding cats," but don't mention it to Russian Svetlana Shamsheeva. She has fluffy white Persians dashing in all directions, performing with doves and dogs. One cat nimbly makes its way along a tightrope, dangling its back paws, while another climbs a high pole to leap to a soft landing on a big cushion. English Yasmine Smart's well-trained horses spin, stand and do much more at her command.Swiss Mei Ling, the hand balancer, seems to defy gravity as she gracefully lifts herself into poses impossible for the average person, continuing Chinese tradition. The trapeze twosome, the Mongolian Angels, also seem to disregard gravity's existence, as they propel their swing and suspend each other high in the air in death-defying and beautiful poses.The Spanish juggler whose name is almost the same as an artist from his homeland, Picaso, Jr., is in the Guinness Book of World Records for his expertise. The sensational Kovgar Troupe features acrobats catapulting into mid-air somersaults, breath-taking feats that have an unforgettably dramatic impact in a tent where every seat is less than 50 feet from the ring.The art theme is apparent in every costume and backdrop, and it is intermingled with the performances. For example, Mei Ling begins her act as a model posing for sketchers. All the artists included did work that involved circus subjects.This show is truly fun for the whole family. The countless thrills and surprises include plenty of audience interaction, including a plate-flipping performance in which the plates boomerang all around the tent like little UFOs, and there is a magical cascade of confetti. At one point, Grandma hilariously cajoles the entire audience into a cheering competition."Jerry Lewis once said, 'The best ad-libs are those you've worked on,'" said Lubin. He describes the essence of the show as "comedy, beauty and excitement." Michael Christensen, the co-founder and creative director of the Big Apple Circus, said, "What does joy look like? Joy is simply picturesque." The Big Apple Circus is at Cunningham Park, Francis Lewis Boulevard and Union Turnpike, in Fresh Meadows until Memorial Day. There are performances every day except Monday (Memorial Day performances are at 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.). For tickets call Ticketmaster at 212-307-4100, click on ticketmaster.com, or go to any Ticketmaster outlet. Tickets range from $14 to $36 for weekday evenings and weekends, and from $15 to $25 for weekday matinees at 11 a.m.

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