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Circus Sarasota's Ovation!

Image: Ian Dean

Even without the high-flying artistry of star Dolly Jacobs (sidelined this year by some physical issues, but planning to return to the air), Circus Sarasota’s Ovation!, currently running under the Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park, still entertains and elicits gasps from audience members.

The show offers a sometimes familiar, sometime new line-up of performers, beginning with the beauty and grace of Sylvia Zerbini’s Liberty horses. Sometimes “dancing” with each other, sometimes trotting around the ring at her command, the animals are a pleasure to watch.

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Sylvia Zerbini & Her Liberty Horses

Image: Ian Dean 

It’s a natural enough transition from the horses to Wild West star AJ Silver, who ambles into the ring toting a bag from which he withdraws, bit by bit, lassos and whips. On occasion, he can insert himself inside a large looped rope; on others, he snaps the top off a flower in his mouth with a whip (after jokingly offering that opportunity to those in the audience; no takers).

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Wild West star AJ Silver

Image: Ian Dean

Clown Jimmy Folco’s best bit brings four apparently willing guests into the ring for a “concerto,” where they take part in pretending to play air guitar or drums or a tiny sax or to wail away as rock stars. It seems that the clowns of Circus Sarasota usually shine when they bring out the civilians.

If you’ve never seen a Rola Bola act, you’ll find Kirill Rebkovets’ pretty darned amazing. Try to imagine the balance it takes to perform while atop a tower of cylinders and boards. You’re sure he’s going to fall, but he doesn’t. He has the strength, skill and chutzpah it takes to accomplish what he sets out to do.

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Quick-change artists The Smirnovs

Image: Ian Dean

From the careful control of Rebkovets, it’s quite a change to see the Anastasini Soccer Dogs take to the “soccer stadium” in the ring. With a plethora of balls, dogs leaping around and one particularly strong and enthusiastic “goalie” dog protecting his net, it can be hard to tell just how much of this act is staged and how much could be impromptu based on the dogs’ behavior. It’s a hoot anyway.

Quick-change artists Vladimir and Olga Smirnov close out the circus’ first act, and as always, no matter what duo performs the seemingly impossible multiple costume changes that take place within a flash, with the whish of a curtain, you’ll have no idea how it’s done.

There’s no high-wire act in this season’s circus, but the Flying Cortes trapeze act certainly provides enough thrills without one. The team of three women and two men demonstrates impeccable timing and physical concentration as they sail from the trapeze and are “caught,” and there’s even a triple somersault in the air by Alex Cortes, a fourth-generation performer.

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The Flying Cortes trapeze act

Image: Ian Dean

Circus Sarasota newcomers JuJu (Julia Figuiere and Julien Posada) add a sweet, cute note to the evening with their pas de deux on the tight wire, working their way toward and away from each other before ending up splitting a bottle of champagne as they “relax” on the wire. They seem to be ballet dancers who just happen to take their steps off the ground.

Juggler Kris Kremo has been perfecting his art for decades, and not only with moving balls, hats, or brick-like boxes around at a fast pace with his hands, head and body. He knows how to have fun with his audience, too, especially if a slipup does occur.

And closing out Ovation! is the Ukrainian hand balancing act, Duo Kvas, featuring Vladimir Kostenko and Anton Savchenko. The circus frequently presents hand balancers, and while you may think you’ve seen it all before, you most likely have not. It hurts just to watch some of the moves the two put their bodies through, but they richly deserve the enthusiastic audience response they receive.

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Hand balancers Duo Kvas

Image: Ian Dean

Full disclosure: The night I attended Ovation! I served, as dozens and dozens of Sarasotans have before me, as guest ringmaster, donning a gold jacket and a whistle to officially start the show. It was a very fun moment, but I fully expect it to be once in a lifetime.

Circus Sarasota’s Ovation! continues through March 4; for tickets call 355-9805 or visit circusarts.org.  

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