CircEsteem unites youth from a litany of locations, building confidence through the aerial arts, juggling, and more. The 10th annual performance re-creates old-time entertainment for new audiences, similar to nostalgic jousting or powdered-wig pageants. General-admission tickets allow spectators to roam the big top and freely select their own seats. Each production spans multiple acts, featuring feats of fancy such as clowning, gym-wheel performances, acrobatics, and frozen fire eating. Performers' ages range from 6 to 18, and their origins include Togo, Mexico, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Chicago's Uptown and Rogers Park neighborhoods.
The marvelous mix of acts at the inaugural season of the Windy City Circus enthralls guests in a breathtaking display of talent including death-defying feats and vaudevillian vignettes that tap into stories of Chicago history. During two mesmerizing hours, charming Master of Ceremonies David Michael Maas directs the spotlight toward acts such as aerial artists flying from trapezes, horses galloping and neighing around the ring, and sensational jugglers lobbing and catching as many as five torch-wielding rabid piranhas. The inspiring spectacles aim to entertain and educate by depicting history's most interesting and most mustached Chicagoans as the emcee and his talented troupe weave a rousing tale of the city by the lake.
Originally part of architect Daniel Burnham's ambitious "Plan of Chicago" drafted in 1909, Navy Pier was designed to handle both recreational and freight traffic for the burgeoning metropolis. Its role quickly changed when it began serving as a barracks and training facility during two World Wars—it earned its nickname because of the more than 200 planes that littered the lake bottom around the pier, lost during exercises and sunk to intimidate fish with military technology. In the decades that followed, the pier was home to a University of Illinois campus, a convention center, and a venue for citywide festivals before falling into disuse. This ended in 1989, when the state moved to transform the venerable pier into one of Chicago's foremost tourist attractions.
Reopened in 1995, the revamped Navy Pier boasts 50 acres of parks, restaurants, shops, and entertainment, scenically located along Lake Michigan and the mouth of the Chicago River. The pier's most striking denizen is its 150-foot tall ferris wheel, whose glittering lights slowly rotate above the water and frame a beautiful view of the city's skyscrapers for riders. Other attractions include a towering IMAX screen that shows educational films and Hollywood blockbusters, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which treats audiences to bold stagings of the Bard's greatest hits.
Ranked among Ticketmaster's Top 25 Most Requested Family Events for five consecutive years, UniverSoul Circus grants an interactive spectacle of acrobatic stunts, dance, and comedy set to popular urban sounds. With its swirling lights and pulsing beats, the circus's resemblance to a blowout concert tour is no accident: production designer Tom Marzullo has created internationally touring stage shows for Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, and Prince.
As hosts, a troupe of improv comics slip laughs in between the gasps and draw the crowd even closer into the action. Meanwhile, the production makes jaws drop farther with trained elephants, illusions featuring a live tiger, a head-balancing act from Vietnam, and female contortionists from Ethiopia. These make up just a few of the globally sourced performers, others of whom hail from locales as diverse as Colombia, South Africa, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
A buzzing crowd gathers around the entrance of the Zoppé Family Circus tent before each performance, straining to glimpse the wooden hands of a large clock that displays the next showtime. When the moment is nearly at hand, members of the family emerge from the cavernous tent to greet their guests. As they introduce their siblings, spouses, and children, an accordion exhales melodies first heard in 1842, when Napoline and Ermenegilda Zoppé traveled from Budapest to Venice for their first show.
Inside the tent, Napoline and Ermenegilda’s descendants effortlessly balance on wires and swing from trapezes. Just below their aerial stage, horses trot around a sawdust ring as equestrian ballerinas display a brand of showmanship worthy of comparison to John Wayne's performance in The Lone Leotard. Between acts, Giovanni Zoppé takes on the persona of Nino the clown—a lovable character whose earnest efforts to steal the show are thwarted by his own buffoonery.
At Cirque Italia, aerialists and acrobats look down to see a very unusual set: a 35,000-gallon water tank. As the high-energy acts swing from ropes and flip over trapezes, curtains of rain and fountain jets crisscross in time to each move. Among them, the Verticali act, in which seasoned performer Gimmi Fornaciari sings classical Italian songs while suspended upside down high above the ground.
On the ground, Fornaciari returns as Laser Man, deftly defying the laws of physics by holding, splitting, and even wielding beams of green laser energy. In a nod to the aquatic setting, Morgaine Rosenthal does a mermaid act, rising from her shell before ascending into the air for a grace corde lisse performance. And between acts, Coco the Clown?who once set a Guinness World Record for riding a 5-inch bicycle?keeps the crowd's spirits high as the human pyramid. Other captivating sights include the humorous antics of the Twin Sailor's Duo Lira act, human-sized bubbles, and Montalvo's trio, who balance and pose atop the reed-like structure of their precarious Chinese pole.
In addition to acting as a love letter to the traditions of the Italian circus, the latest Cirque Italia show is also a tribute to the ingenuity of founder Manuel Rebecchi. As the nephew of Moira Orfei, the world-renowned queen of the Italian circus, Rebecchi combined his family's pedigree with his own groundbreaking ideas to form a company that leaves crowds breathless and competitors hurrying to catch up.