Once upon a circus

Zoppe An Italian Family Circus performs in Chandler Dec 29-Jan 7

Sixth generation circus performer Giovanni Zoppé traces the beginning of performance art to the circus arts, with its humble beginnings in street clowns and jugglers. “The circus is antique,” he says, “it’s history.” In his case, it’s something more. It’s family history.

“My family has always done it,” quips Zoppé. His own son made his first appearance in the family circus when he was just six days old. Folks who attend “Zoppé An Italian Family Circus” during its Dec. 30-Jan. 7 run on the West Lawn of the Chandler Center for the Performing Arts may see Giovanni Julien Veneto Zoppé, now two years old, perform. Naps come first, says proud papa Zoppé.

“The show changes every year,” explains Zoppé. So no worries if you saw last year’s Arizona gig. Highlights of this year’s show include several performances by guest artists. There’s the Rosales family, whose twin boys shimmy up a pole balanced on their father’s head before going into handstand mode atop the pole. And the Poema family, who juggle children on their feet. Their own, not yours — although I’m told the circus includes plenty of audience participation.

The Zoppé family uses only dogs and horses, their own family pets, in the show. Zoppé says the true circus tradition has always favored domestic over wild animals, and feels the animals in their shows are some of the best treated animals around. He describes seeing the animals as “a great education for kids.”

Giovanni Zoppe performs the role of Nino

Still, Zoppé is careful to note that their circus isn’t meant to entertain only children. “Our family entertains other families,” says Zoppé. “The show is for the whole family.”

We’ve never spent much time at the circus, because one of our children was always deathly afraid of clowns. Zoppé says it’s more common than you might think, but something they rarely encounter.

Zoppé performs the role of Nino the Clown, but doesn’t wear the traditional greasepaint make-up usually associated with clowning. Instead, he dons only a fake nose and mustache — because they support his character work during the show.

The family’s circus tent — designed by Zoppé and his father, and engineered in Italy — seats just 550 people. It was crafted with vinyl from Mexico and other materials from France. “No one is more than 25 feet from the action,” says Zoppé.

Two of the “Zoppé An Italian Family Circus” performances in Chandler are “Kiddie Shows,” and there’s a special New Year’s Eve performance at 7:30pm on Sat, Dec. 31. Click here to learn more about the Zoppé family, and here for details about their Chandler performances.

— Lynn

Coming up: A veteran’s take on “South Pacific”


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