All the fun of the circus

A 1920s style of Big Top entertainment is delighting audiences in Yakum Park.

circus 88 (photo credit: )
circus 88
(photo credit: )
There's something about the sight of a circus tent that can't help but stir up excitement in even the most casual onlooker. But with elephant parades and lion-taming displays rarely to be seen these days, the thrills in modern circuses come from feats of human daring more than anything else. Acrobats and entertainers Avner Hochfeld and Uri Weiss are awakening a new generation to the ageless lure of the Big Top. For the past eight years, the pair has been performing as Captain Zucchini, an old-style circus act that alternates between vaudevillian hilarity and breathtaking acrobatics. They polished the act with the addition of Weiss's acrobat wife, Noa Hartmann-Weiss, after they met four years ago. This year, with the addition of two talented trapeze artists, the Captain Zucchini team is putting on a weekly show called La Familia, a one-hour display of amazing acrobatics laced with rollicking humor. The family-oriented show runs every Saturday at the Reaction circus tent in Yakum Park, north of Shfayim on the central Israeli coast. "It may sound kitschy, but we never thought this would happen, performing every week in a real circus like this," says Hochfeld. "This is a dream come true for us." Hochfeld, 36, and Weiss, 32, came to their joint destinies along entirely different paths. Weiss says he always knew he wanted to be a circus performer. After completing school and his army service, he went to England to study circus arts. By contrast, Hochfeld says that until he was about 26, he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, spending his young adult years touring the Far East and working at odd jobs. Then, somehow, he fell into acrobatics and decided to go to France to study circus arts. The pair met eight years ago while performing at a festival after both had returned to Israel. "The circus world is very small in Israel," says Weiss. "We all get to know each other and work at the same places." Weiss and Hochfeld hit it off and decided to team up, calling themselves Captain Zucchini after a 1920s circus act of the same name. They performed at private functions and festivals around the country, latterly Noa Hartmann-Weiss as part of the team. They recently formed a partnership with Reaction, a company that rents out circus tents and facilities. In January, they began performing the La Familia show weekly at Reaction's Yakum Park base. "This partnership with a professional circus is what we dreamed of," says Hochfeld. The 1920s model of circus is clear in Captain Zucchini's entertaining act. Weiss and Hochfeld, the hosts and centerpieces of the show, wear modified versions of the one-piece men's bathing suits fashionable in the early 20th century, and sport large handlebar moustaches. Their Charlie Chaplinesque movements are deliberately exaggerated, while their humor is broad and innocent, with a few double entendres thrown in for the adults. They make the audience gasp by lifting each other into precarious positions, and then make everyone laugh by slapping each other on the butt. They introduce the petite 28-year-old Hartmann-Weiss as "the strongest woman in the world." This tiny woman then proceeds to astonish everyone by lifting her much-larger partners off the ground. Next, the threesome go into a series of skilled maneuvers involving strength, balance and agility before they are joined by the two trapeze artists, who later give their own breathtaking performances on ropes high above the crowd. And in the best traditions of performers everywhere, the two hosts ask for volunteers from the crowd to help them in their act. In one performance, for example, they deftly swung a giggling nine-year-old boy through the air by his arms and legs; arranged other laughing children into a square and taped them together to form a boxing ring; got three men to line up and touch their toes while Hartmann-Weiss lay across their backs and Weiss somersaulted over them; and gave a colorful umbrella to one man in the audience, then sprayed water at him, to the delighted squeals of his children. "We both really like that 1920s style of circus act," says Weiss. "They had people flying through the air out of cannons and doing other amazing things, but there was also a lot of humor." La Familia is scheduled to run in Yakum Park until the end of April, and possibly longer. The one-hour show is on every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and costs NIS 60 per child and NIS 40 per adult. The price includes admission, parking, and a variety of free activities for children and adults, including some that generally are not found elsewhere, such as high-wire walking (on a safely low wire), stilt-walking (on safely short stilts) and juggling lessons. There is also free face-painting and unlimited access to bouncing mattresses. Entertainers of various kinds wander the grounds, and there are stands that sell hot dogs and ice cream. The activities run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A family could easily spend a whole day there. For more information, call (09) 952-4333.