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Posts Tagged ‘entertainment’

Big Apple Circus Legendarium

Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Going to the Big Apple Circus in Lincoln Center has been a New York holiday tradition since the 1980s. We especially like to go on New Year’s Eve when the show ends with a champagne toast and dancing in the ring, but this year we caught the show early. At last Saturday’s performance of Legendarium, scenery in the style of an antique handbill set the mood for a journey back in time even before the show started: “Presenting the unprecedented attractions of THE FIRST BIG TOP and exhibiting celebrated American jesters and natural born fools The AcroBuffos…”

Jenny Vidbel and her Liberty Horses

Jenny Vidbel and her Liberty Horses. Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Acrobats, trapeze artists, jugglers, a contortionist, an equilibrist, Liberty horses and former shelter dogs are also on the bill. The jovial ringmaster John Kennedy Kane shares entertaining anecdotes about circus history relating to the Brooklyn Bridge and Broadway. We learn that the first-ever circus ring measured 42 feet in diameter, which is the size needed for a horse to reach a full gallop, and that is precisely the size of the Big Apple’s ring.

Jenny Vidbel's Ponies

Jenny Vidbel’s Ponies. Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

Over the years, Katja Schumann’s Liberty horses and Barry Lubin aka Grandma the Clown have been among our favorite performers. Lubin retired after last year’s show and we miss him. The highlight of the show was Jenny Vidbel’s Liberty horse act featuring Arabian horses and ponies. When the ponies trotted out, the audience let out a collective gasp of delight. Other standout acts were slack wire maestro Zhang Fan, Daniel Cyr and his mesmerizing Cyr Wheel, the Dalian Bicycle Troupe, Desire of Flight aerialists Malvina and Valeriy, and Emily and Menno van Dyke, who passionately dance the tango at the same time that they juggle.

The Big Apple Circus, Lincoln Center, New York City, through January 13, 2013; Alpharetta, GA, February 1-18; Bridgewater, NJ, February 18-March 17; Boston, MA, March 26- May 12.

Zhang Fan and Jenny Vidbel

Zhang Fan and Jenny Vidbel. Big Apple Circus Legendarium. December 15, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, April 21, 2012

A rare and unusual “Champion Sword Swallower” banner attributed to Nieman Eisman, a master of the Chicago style of banner painting from the 1920s through the mid-1950s, is up for auction this weekend at Slotin Folk Art. The circa 1930s-1940s banner conveys the danger of this sideshow act by depicting the performer downing multiple swords from his arsenal as well as a glowing neon tube. While sword swallowing is an ancient art, electricity is a potent symbol of the modern age. As soon as the neon tube was invented in 1936, neon-tube swallowing became a sideshow craze. When the stage is darkened, the eerie glow of the neon illuminates the performer’s neck and chest, making it convincingly clear that the sword swallower is not up to any tricks.

When ATZ saw Johnny Meah perform this dramatic feat at the Barnum Museum a dozen years ago we were stunned. Fifteen years earlier in a carnival sideshow, a neon tube exploded inside him. When someone tried to wrench it out of his throat, shards of glass cut his windpipe. Blood gushed from his mouth onto the stage. Despite the physical hazards of the profession and the potentially fatal effects of neon, the art of sword swallowing is “not totally physical. In fact, very little of it is physical,” Meah told ATZ. Among the Kings and Queens of Swords whose bravura performances with neon we’re fortunate to have seen are Natasha Veruschka (“The World’s Only Sword Swallowing Belly Dancer”), Johnny Fox, Keith Nelson of the Bindlestiff Family Circus and The Great Fredini of Coney Island USA.

Neon sword

Swallowing a Neon Sword, Detail of Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, April 21, 2012

Although this banner was not painted for a specific performer, it reminds us of the story of Prince Neon– William Knoll — who claimed to be the world’s first neon-tube swallower. He was also presumably among the first to be injured when, in July of 1936, a two-foot-long neon tube broke inside him just before the electricity was turned on. SWORD SWALLOWER DOES IT TOO WELL, SURGEONS TAKE FOOT OF GLASS TUBING FROM STOMACH was the headline of an item that flashed across the wire. Later on, Knoll “put himself out of business” with neon as we say on the midway. “A Daring Exhibition” indeed.

vintage sideshow banner

Detail of Sword Swallower Banner attributed to Nieman Eisman. Slotin Folk Art Auction, Aptil 21, 2012

According to the auction catalog, the banner was rescued from oblivion by the consignor in the 1970s and later attributed to Nieman Eisman by sword swallower and banner painter Johnny Meah and banner dealer Teddy Varndell:

In late 2003, the consignor contacted banner artist, as well as technical adviser on the HBO series “Carnivale,” Johnny Meah by email, and it was his opinion that Nieman Eisman was the artist of my banner. He later forwarded the materials to Edward “Teddy” Varndell, banner dealer and co-author of Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway. Mr. Varndell also believed my banner to be by Eisman.

In the early 1970′s the consignor worked at a TV station in production. In the prop room behind the studio, he found this “carny” banner, back-side up, covering a pile of stacked lumber. With the station manager’s OK, he replaced it with another tarp and he has had the banner since then. During early days at the TV station, traveling carnivals or circuses would bring performers, props and animals to the TV studio for promotions (back when productions were “live”). This banner was apparently left behind during one of these shows. Johnny Meah said circus banners in the ’50s and ’60s were considered so disposable they were often used under circus trucks to sop up oil leaks.

The pre-sale estimate is $3,000 – $4,000. This weekend’s folk art auction consists of 1,500 lots, with the sideshow banner set to be auctioned on Saturday. Slotin Folk Art’s live auction will be held at Historic Buford Hall in Buford, Georgia on April 21 and 22. Absentee, phone and online bidding are also available on auction days.

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April 10, 2012: Up for Auction: Collection of Carnival Knockdown Dolls

February 25, 2012: Video: Happy International Sword Swallowers Day!

May 8, 2011: Up for Auction: Sideshow Banners by Johnny Meah

November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola

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If you’re one of those skeptics who thinks a sword swallower’s sword folds up into the handle or employs some kind of special effect, February 25th’s big swallow should set you straight.

Today, in celebration of the 6th annual World Sword Swallowers Day, more than 30 performers are expected to “drop swords” at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums in New York, London, San Francisco, Hollywood, and Orlando, among other places. Los Angeles sword swallower Brett Loudermilk made these videos three years ago on International Sword Swallowers Day in New York City. One of 10 featured sword swallowers at Ripley’s in Times Square in 2009, this year Loudermilk will be at Ripley’s Hollywood.

In New York, today’s free show at Ripley’s begins at 1:30 pm and ends with the big swallow at 2:25 pm. Keith Nelson of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and the Lady Aye will be among the Kings and Queens of Swords.

“A lot of it is just showmanship. You really have to get the audience with you feeling that it’s real, and then kind of hold them at that edge,” Nelson tells ATZ. In an attempt to convince skeptics in the audience that, as he says, “what I’m shoving down my throat is real,” the Bindlestiff’s charmingly subversive Mr. Pennygaff has also swallowed oversize scissors, sabers, corkscrews, door springs, coat hangers and, in a tribute to good ol’ vaudeville, a rod upon which he has set a spinning plate!

The February 25th celebration was started by the Sword Swallowers Association International to promote this ancient art, honor veteran performers, and raise awareness of the medical contributions sword swallowers have made in the fields of medicine and science, according to SSAI founder and multiple Guinness World Record holder Dan Meyer.

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Related posts on ATZ…

February 4, 2013: Rare & Vintage: Girl to Gorilla Sideshow Banner

August 6, 2012: Art of the Day: Madame Twisto by Marie Roberts

April 18, 2012: Rare & Vintage: A Neon Sword Swallower’s Sideshow Banner

November 4, 2011: Up for Auction: Ringling Bros Circus Side Show Poster

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