Circus Sarasota takes the show to assisted living facilities

SARASOTA – Circus Sarasota is now nearing the end of their winter program, with their final show this Friday night. But even after the tent goes dark, the show goes on, because those performances are only the tip of the iceberg.

Circus Sarasota continues its service to the community all year long, and that includes their outreach program “Laughter Unlimited.” Five days a week, specially trained clowns and other Circus Sarasota performers go into nursing homes, assisted living homes, and facilities that serve people with disabilities.

There, they not only make the residents laugh, but they inspire them to use their abilities and their talents to the maximum.

The Laughter Unlimited team got a royal welcome at the United Cerebral Palsy Center in Bradenton this week. “We don’t just come in and put on a show and present a performance, our clients are vested in the program because we trust them and they trust us,” says performer Chuck Sidlow.

Laughter Unlimited visits there twice a month. This is one of their many stops. Every week, they hit two facilities a day, spreading joy and teaching life skills, like better communication. “Most of the Laughter Unlimited programs are dealing in the senior community with Alzheimer dementia independent living, as well as assisted living for our aging folks. First the hearing goes, then the speech, so communication is very, very important.”

Clients don’t just sit back and watch, they’re a part of the show. They sing, they make music, they perform circus tricks. They’ve been to see Circus Sarasota, and they pretend to be Nik Wallenda.

You can see the applause they get means a lot to them. “Our wonderful friends here at UCP get a wonderful sense of accomplishment and a sense of empowerment,” says performer Billy Bob.

The staff at UCP says Laughter Unlimited makes a major difference in the lives they touch there. “Their main focus is to help the individual find their talent and their desires and use that to develop a sense of humor and just have a great time,” says Gail Lesko.

CIRCUS REVIEW: Nik Wallenda keeps Circus Sarasota flying high

By Jay Handelman, Herald-Tribune
/ Sunday, January 27, 2013

Having watched daredevil Nik Wallenda’s thrilling high-wire walk over Niagara Falls last year, you might wonder how he can match that excitement level under the more limited big top of Circus Sarasota.

Nik Wallenda, on left, with Erendira Vazquez Wallenda and Blake Wallenda perform during Circus Sarasota's opening night. (Herald-Tribune Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)Nik Wallenda, on left, with Erendira Vazquez Wallenda and Blake Wallenda perform during Circus Sarasota’s opening night. (Herald-Tribune Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)

But the Wallenda family knows how to put thrills into a performance, no matter the venue.

To cap off Circus Sarasota’s action-packed 16th show, Nik Wallenda is joined by his wife, Erendira Vazquez Wallenda, his sister Lijana Wallenda Hernandez and his cousin Blake Wallenda on the wire in the intimate confines of the circus tent.

See a gallery of images from the 16th Circus Sarasota opening night

They walk, jump and ride bicycles across the thin wire, and stage a mini-version of the Wallenda family’s famous pyramid, with Blake and Nik riding bicycles and supporting Lijana on a chair resting on a bar across their shoulders. The slightest wobble she makes trying to sit or stand reminds you of the dangers in the act, even for a routine they have performed countless times.

Nik Wallenda, who is set for a high-wire walk across U.S. 41 on Tuesday, is the star attraction at this year’s show, but he’s hardly the only stand-out performer.

The incredible Encho Keryazov strongman and hand-balancer during Circus Sarasota's opening night. (Herald-Tribune Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)The incredible Encho Keryazov strongman and hand-balancer during Circus Sarasota’s opening night. (Herald-Tribune Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)

That list begins with strongman and hand-balancer Encho Keryazov, who supports himself on two poles (and sometimes just one), maneuvering his body into seemingly impossible positions for minutes on end without releasing the tension in his muscles. Sweat covers his body by the time he supports his on two stacks of eight bricks atop the poles.

Stefan and Aline of Duo Platchkov do a high-speed juggling act, where, in a rare switch, the man is more of an assistant, as she dextrously bounces balls off two drums and a platform. Aline finishes the act by playing familiar melodies on a special keyboard by juggling the balls at an increasingly rapid rate.

Aline of the Duo Platchkov juggling act plays music by bouncing balls on a special keyboard in Circus Sarasota. (Herald-Tribune Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)Aline of the Duo Platchkov juggling act plays music by bouncing balls on a special keyboard in Circus Sarasota. (Herald-Tribune Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)

The Jioke Riders open the show standing atop horses running around the ring, while leaping through hoops over bars at ever-increasing speeds.

Natalya and Jorge Pompeyo present a cute array of acrobatic dogs who jump ropes or through rings and over metal stands. Ventriloquist Willer Nicolodi is a skilled artist, but his best material comes when he uses some audience members as his impromptu dummies.

Vladimir and Olga Smirnov return with some new twists in their still mind-boggling quick-change costume routine, in which gets wrapped or briefly covered by fabric or tinsel and emerges in seconds in a new outfit. Even repeated viewings doesn’t diminish the astonishment they create.

You can also be impressed by the Duo Manducas, the comical hand-balancing act performed by Antonio “Toni” Ferreira and Victor August Freitas-Doresis, who generate laughs while demonstrating strength and skill.

Acrobatic antics of Antonio Toni Ferreira and his circus counterpart, Victor Augusto Freitas-Doresis of Duo Manducas, (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Thomas Bender.)Acrobatic antics of Antonio Toni Ferreira and his circus counterpart, Victor Augusto Freitas-Doresis of Duo Manducas, (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Thomas Bender.)

And a performance of Circus Sarasota would not be complete without co-founder Dolly Jacobs gracefully floating through the air while supported by straps. This year she’s joined by a new partner, longtime trapeze artist Rafael Palacios, who looks as thrilled as the audience to be in on the act.

Paul Binder, founder of the Big Apple Circus, serves as friendly Ringmaster, providing a bit of history with each introduction. Over the last 16 years, founders Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs have ensured that Circus Sarasota adds to that history in its own stylish way.

REVIEW: The Uniquely Sarasotan Cirque des Voix

By Gayle Williams, Herald-Tribune / Saturday, February 26, 2011

On many occasions I am grateful for the astonishing good fortune to live in Sarasota, but none more so than when I was brought to tears of joy witnessing the  “Queen of the Air” and international circus legend Dolly Jacobs flying near the peak of the big top to the luscious music of Ennio Morricone performed by live orchestra and chorus.  What could be more uniquely Sarasotan than a celebration of the musical arts and circus arts together?

Aerialist Dolly Jacobs performing at Circus Sarasota

A roar of applause and cheers is due to impresarios Joe Caulkins of Key Chorale and Pedro Reis of Circus Sarasota for creating this wonderful experience to share with us.  This was not simply a concert taking place in a tent with some circus acts in front of the orchestra and chorus.  Rather, we saw the Maestro transformed to Ringmaster and programmed music which perfectly meshed with the nature of each circus act.

Caulkins, delivering his lines with classic circus inflection, either had good coaching or is a natural who seemed to relish this new role.  From the first set up featuring clowns Chuck Sidlow and Karen Bell fishing for “O For-TUNA” segueing into Carl Orff’s memorable opening to “Carmina Burana,” to the driving force of Karl Jenkins’ “Dies Irae,” perfectly portraying the Moroccan Connection’s acrobatic muscle in the music, this was a neatly blended new art form.

To be sure, there were times when the act truly did distract from the music, as with the Rolla Bolla act by Axel Perez where bursts of applause and the rapt attention required to enjoy this balancing act, allowed us to largely ignore the musical challenges the chorus was hurdling in Eric Whitacre’s engaging “Little Man in a Hurry.”

The program included several works where the chorus and orchestra did not have to share the spotlight and in these the Key Chorale acquitted itself well.  Perhaps it was the acoustics of the tent that made it difficult to follow the sung text in Charles Ives’ “Circus Band” and in most of the pieces, but the general sound, blend and pitch of the ensemble made for an enjoyable experience.  OF course, the musicians of the orchestra and accompanying pianists Judy Richey, Genevieve Beauchamp, and Nancy Yost Olson were superb as well.

The Sarasota Young Voices were featured in a number of the selections and they excelled in their own spotlight with the atmospheric music of Karl Jenkins’ “The Snow of Yesterday,” even outshining Allesandro Wallenda’s juggling act with their charming way in “La Lluvia” by Stephen Hatfield.

If the aerial beauty of Dolly Jacobs made us cry, then the jaw-dropping contortions of Ricardo Sosa paired with Karl Jenkins’ deeply moving “Pie Jesu” left us speechless.  If you had to miss one of these two performances this year, then buy your tickets well in advance for what we hope will be an annual event of this remarkable new partnership.