12/26-1/6: Zoppé Family Circus at Chandler arts center

Dec 31, 2012 2148

Families traditionally gather around the table during the holiday season. Tradition for the Zoppé family, however, means gathering around the circus ring.

The Zoppé Family Circus, founded in Italy in 1842 by Napoleone and Ermengilda Zoppé, has been passed down through the generations and still is going strong. It starts an 11-day run Wednesday, Dec. 26, at the Chandler Center for the Arts.

Giovanni Zoppé, Napoleone's great-great-grandson, leads the troupe as Nino the clown. He's joined by his wife, son, daughter, mother, sisters and several other relatives each night. Giovanni has never wanted to do anything else since his father, Alberto, taught him the craft when he was a young boy.

"I've never not had a memory when I was young than being in the circus," Giovanni said. "It has always been a part of my life, and my son was in his first show when he was only 6 days old. I brought him onstage for the finale, and he's 3 now and does routines with me, copying me to a T."

The show is not your average circus with goofy clown cars and elephants balancing balls on their trunks. Nor does it feature the over-the-top theatrical experience of such companies as Cirque du Soleil.

Instead, the Zoppé Family Circus takes place in an intimate tent that holds 500 people, traveling back to its roots as a one-ring circus with Old World traditions. The Zoppés, their relatives and other performing families gather for a lighthearted show filled with acrobatic, equestrian, canine, balancing and clowning acts.

Giovanni discusses running a business that goes back 170 years and what it's like to perform and tour with his family.

Question: What makes your circus stand out from others?

Answer: From the time the people enter the tent, we are there to greet them, to say hello and goodbye, and make sure they are having a great time. We don't have any really sparkly costumes, no typical white makeup on the clowns, no elephants and tigers. We blend the old with the new.

Q: Did it take much encouragement to get your children to perform?

A: My father never forced us, so I never have with my children. It would be fine with me whatever they decide to do. There are so many people out there that have jobs that they hate to go to, so as long as they do something that makes them happy, then I'll be tickled pink. But they love to make other people happy in the show, so I love it.

Q: Did your son, Julian, always want to be in the show, like you?

A: He used to mimic me from backstage, and my wife would take video of him. One night, he slowly walked out into the ring while I was performing, then realized he was in front of an audience and ran back scared. He eventually came back out by himself, without any coaching and wanted to be out there with me. He does exactly what I do: If I balance a balloon on my head, on my foot, he tries to as well. It's the cutest thing. He is a mini me.

Q: What about the rest of your family?

A: My daughter, Chiara, would sit in my hands in the ring when she was about a month and a half old. Now she's 10 and started performing with us full time about seven months ago. My wife performs an aerial act called the Cloud Swing.

Q: Who are some of your guest performers?

A: This year, we have the Valencia family from Argentina, who have a dancing-gauchos act that has been in their family for generations. We also have a 14-year-old boy from Mexico who performs on the trapeze. He'll stand on his head 30 feet in the air and juggle while upside down.

Q: With some of the very advanced and theatrical circus shows out there today, how do you compete?

A: Without a family, you don't have a real circus. The new circuses out today aren't about family, and while they are successful, they aren't something I want to bring my 3-year-old to. The lights and sounds, fog machines and stages that go up and down are all good and dandy, but the real circus is a clown on the street entertaining children. The circus should be for the family, performed by family.

Q: Is it hard to tour with family?

A: It's always difficult, we're a family. But the show is so personal to us that it's all about making the best of the experience. We may have arguments, but in the end it's about putting out the best show we possibly can.

by Kellie Hwang, azcentral.com

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