Soaring acts to star at Big Apple Circus

Ysabella Wallenda-Cortes, 10 (r.), flies into the arms of father Robinson Cortes in the Flying Cortes trapeze act. The family performance is a highlight of the Big Apple Circus' 34th season show "Dream Big," hitting Cunningham Park from May 22 through June 17. Photo courtesy Bertrand Guay/Big Apple Circus
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It’s time to “Dream Big” in Queens as the Big Apple Circus launches its annual event later this month fully equipped with jugglers, horses, dogs, acrobats, magic and more. The new 34th season show will feature the Flying Cortes trapeze act, a staple of the event.

Brothers Alex and Robinson Cortes will soar under the Big Apple Circus Big Top, at Cunningham Park, alongside 10-year-old Ysabella Wallenda-Cortes, who comes from eight generations of circus performers on her mother’s side and five generations on her father’s.

As one of the act’s flyers, Alex Cortes spun his way through three-ring circuses such as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and the Tarzan Zerbini Circus before landing at the Big Apple Circus with his family.

His biggest thrill, he said, was interacting with the crowd inside the tent.

“They can see your facial expressions, so you can really show the audience how you feel,” he said.

To make this year’s performance special, Alex Cortes said he would introduce a new move and potentially become the ninth man in the world to ever complete a “triple and a half” flying stunt.

The Cortes family comes from Colombia and has a generations-long history in circus performance. Alex Cortes first started flying into his father Edmundo’s arms at age 6. Years later, brother Robinson Cortes took over his father’s role as main catcher.

“It’s who we are, not a career choice, it’s what we were meant for,” Alex Cortes said. “Above all, you have to love it.”

Alida Wallenda-Cortes coordinates much of the group’s choreography and said her family’s rich history of performing makes the show a bonding experience. After growing up watching her family perform on the high wire, Wallenda-Cortes said she was more than happy to pass the tradition down to her daughter Ysabella Wallenda-Cortes.

“We enjoy working together as a family,” she said. “But more importantly, we feel that we provide the audience with something that everyone can enjoy.”

Ysabella Cortes said she was most excited to be traveling and performing with family. In the circus act, she flies through the air and showcases her three signature tricks.

“I’ve learned a lot while performing with my family,” Ysabella Cortes said. “My favorite part is getting to fly in front of so many people.”

The Flying Corteses practice together throughout the year with long rehearsals three days a week while performing.

Her father Robinson Cortes is the group’s catcher, comes from 35 years of circus experience and said the Flying Cortes act was only one of the many featured attractions available at the Big Apple Circus. He said he felt lucky to be traveling the country with his family to amaze crowds with their airborne act.

“Being together as a family is the best part of performing,” Robinson Cortes said. “It’s a tradition we all want to keep alive.”

“Dream Big” by the Big Apple Circus begins May 22 and runs for 43 performances through June 17 under the Big Top at Cunningham Park, at 196-22 Union Tnpk. in Fresh Meadows. Tickets start at $15 and are available by calling 1-888-541-3750 or at

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Posted 12:00 am, May 11, 2012
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