Sarasota, FL, is the ultimate circus town. After all, John Ringling (of the Ringling Bros. Circus) was instrumental in transforming Sarasota from a sleepy fishing village to one of the Southeast’s most culturally rich cities, and The Ringling Museum of Art is one of the region’s best museums. So, it was no surprise that Circus Sarasota,which I watched last Saturday night, was fabulous. The circus is serious business in Sarasota.
Circus Sarasota had been well-hyped, as Nik Wallenda (pictured above) walked on a thin metal cable 200 feet in the air in Downtown Sarasota, between One Watergate Condominium and The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota in early February. Nik Wallenda comes from the Great Wallendas, a family who have been performing in circuses for decades and has featured prominently in the Ringling Bros. Circus.
Nik Wallenda and his family were the grand finale of Circus Sarasota. As you can see in the picture on the left, they formed a pyramid and then walked across the high wire. Nik also rode his bike across the wire. All of this was without a net, by the way. It was incredibly nerve-wracking to watch — I was sweating the whole time. The circus tent is very small, so you feel like you’re practically sitting under the Wallendas as they teeter above you. I felt the whole audience breathe a collective sigh of relief when the Wallendas were all safely on the ground.
It might sound odd that I began my description of the circus by the grand finale. This is because I was lured in by the promise that I would be wowed by the Wallendas. I was a little skeptical about attending the circus because I don’t like clowns.
However, Al Calienes as the star clown was fantastic and made me rethink my categorical dislike of all clowns. First of all, he wasn’t in classic clown attire and was wearing very little makeup — I think it’s those drawn-on smiles that creep me out the most. He was more of a hybrid of a clown and a mime.
He was such a gifted comic and communicator that you didn’t realize he never spoke. His humor was simple enough for a child to appreciate it yet executed well enough for an adult to appreciate it too. He came out with the ringmaster in between nearly all of the acts. And when he had his own acts, he was great. (Normally, I see those as fillers in between the “real acts” but the audience seemed just as engaged during these.) Really, I hope Al Calienes becomes the head of a clown college where he can teach future clowns how to be hilarious without being self-depreciating.
There were plenty of other entertaining acts: poodles dressed as lions (dogs and a pair of horses are the only animals in the circus), an inspiring one-armed juggler, a quick-change artist from Belgium and two brothers who did flips in such a way you’d swear one was made entirely out of rubber.
Circus Sarasota is now finished for the season in Sarasota; it only ran from Feb. 12—28. On March 12th, it travels south to Fort Myers, where it will perform through the 28th. Catch it if you can!