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Curator's Note:

For several months each year, The Big Apple Circus pulls its muddy trailers and tents into the superlative air of Lincoln Center. Here, in the company of lean ballet dancers with elegant posture and sopranos with voices akin to angels, the Big Apple Circus stakes its claim as a classic art form. It’s incongruous: A messy circus with bales of hay and cotton candy wrappers plunked in this epicenter of high art. But the circus ring has always been a showcase for performance artistry, a place where athleticism, humor and human physical potential are on full display. In this collection from PBS’s upcoming series, CIRCUS, we shine a spotlight on the artistry and athletic prowess under the big top.


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Exhibition Playlist

Circus: Behind the Curtain

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This is where they stand and pace and stretch. This is where they pray or practice or spit into their own palms for good luck. Circus performers—artists of the air and sawdust—hang behind a heavy curtain, shrouded in shadows, waiting for their moment in the brightly lit ring. Or maybe they've just finished their act, and the acrobats and jugglers are taking giant gulps of air, the clowns are tired and sweaty from the exertion, their makeup smeared across their tired faces. All of them are spent from the exuberant crowds and the hard work of entertaining. Here, behind the heavy curtain, they collapse, or wait or stretch or laugh. Here, behind the curtain, is where the circus begins and ends.


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