BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — If you've always wanted to run away and join the circus, here's your chance. The six-hour series Circus, about life inside the big top, rolls into PBS stations, including Kentucky Educational Television, on Wednesday.
Casting relative newcomers and acts that go back as far as seven generations, Circus reveals what goes on behind the tent flaps of the Big Apple Circus, which began performing 33 years ago.
The filmmakers considered many circuses before they decided to train their lens on the Big Apple.
"There aren't that many wonderful, great circuses as you would think or imagine across the country, but we did look at a number," says Maro Chermayeff, executive producer, co-creator and director of Circus. "We were very drawn to the Big Apple for a number of reasons. It was a traditional one-ring circus that was performing at a level of excellence that it was considered one of the top circuses in the world. We had people saying, 'I would give my left leg to ... get a Big Apple gig.'
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One of Big Apple's top bananas is Alida Wallenda-Cortes of the famous Flying Wallendas. "My family goes back over 200 years in the circus business, and my daughter is continuing on with our family tradition. She's performing as well," she says.
Wallenda-Cortes defies gravity with her husband and his brother in a world-renowned trapeze act called The Flying Cortes. She started working with her parents' act when she was 3 and has mastered several disciplines.
She says she would rather not perform with companies like Cirque du Soleil or Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
"It's about the glitz and the showy smoke-and-mirrors kind of thing, where they think that the more action that's going on in the rings, the better," she says. "But you really can't focus on anything. So coming from a multi generational circus family, I would rather be in the one-ring where I can focus on the people in the ring and performing to my best of abilities and, hopefully, bring some happiness into their lives."
Her family is known for not using a net while working on the high wire. She says that all started when the net was lost in transit.
"Way back when my family came to the United States, they used to perform with a net, but in their travels over here, the net was lost in shipping," she said. "We don't like to go up there doing something that we're not 100 percent sure. If we don't know how to do it good enough without the net, then we shouldn't be doing it."
But they use a net on the flying trapeze.
"Flying trapeze is such split-second timing that we have to have the net," she said.
The series proves there is something special about circus people. Wallenda-Cortes agrees.
"Circus is not just something we came to play one day and decided, 'Oh, this looks like it might be fun for a day or so,'" she said. "It's something that gets into your heart and that you have to live."