Feature Article Vol. VI, No. 9

The Big Apple Circus Promotes a Family Reunion

It’s going to be a special Christmas for the Garcia brothers. Although children of circus families rarely get to spend much time together once they embark on separate careers, three of the five Garcias have been booked on the Big Apple Circus, so they are looking forward to celebrating Christmas together in New York City.

Dandino, the oldest at forty-two, does a roller skating act with his wife Luciana; thirty-five year old Gamal is a juggler; and the youngest, Ammed at twenty-seven, is the principal flyer in the Flying Tuniziani troupe.  Two other brothers, Abdon and Abdiel are off on other gigs.  This is the first time since 2006 that the three have worked together when they were all booked in Circus Circus in Las Vegas, and so it should be a joyous family reunion with their six children five of whom are between the ages of five and two.  The sixth cousin is a teenager.  Already they have been enjoying peripatetic sleep- over parties moving from one home trailer to another.

The brothers don’t usually make any special effort to work together, but this unique booking worked out without their having to do anything to make it happen, and it came as a surprise to each of them, no one aware of the other’s contracts until they traded notes and discovered, to their joy, that not only would they be working together, but on the Big Apple Circus, about which they had heard so many good things for most of their lives and had always hoped one day to be a part of.  There is a bit of wonderful irony in finding themselves in the same show because Gamal doesn’t like to take long contracts because of his business in Las Vegas fabricating props for shows and individual acts.  They are, however, hardly neophytes to the circus business.  All three have been working in many outstanding circuses in Europe and Ammed has also worked for both Cirque du Soleil and Ringling.

The Garcia brothers are third generation circus. Their grandfather, who was born in Tunisia (hence the Tuniziani name for the flying troupe)  owned a circus in Venezuela.  Their father was a stage magician, and since he was often off on his own gigs in theatres where it would have been difficult for the boys to join him, the boys spent their summers with their grandmother on the circus.  It was there that they learned the basics of their trade.  Their grandfather worked in a tumbling act, much like Moroccan acrobats building multiple person pyramids.

Like so many other flyers, the brothers confess to being inspired by the movie Trapeze.  In addition to the artistry of the work depicted in the film, they were also impressed by the respect and even reverence they saw accorded to the flyers as the film unfolded.  They couldn’t help noticing how the other performers always watched the flying act, and they also took notice of how the flyers attracted female admirers.

From the very beginning they decided to create a flying act. Unfortunately they had neither the skills nor the money needed to acquire a flying rig, which they would need to practice on and train. Instead they developed a casting act that combined leaping and comedy.  As the oldest brother Dandino trained all the brothers, first in the casting act and then in the flying act.  They even began teaching Ammed who was just a toddler at that time to work in the act.  Their first contract for their casting act was with a Mexican circus.

Finally the three oldest brothers were able to build their own flying rig and trained as flyers. There is some disagreement between them as to how old Ammed was at that time.  They say seven; he says two.  He was thirteen, they agree, when he joined the flying act.

Gamal eventually took up juggling when he was sixteen, because he said he never felt completely comfortable in the flying act. He recalls always having admired jugglers, and juggling, more than flying, felt right to him.

He found someone who taught him the basics and from then on until he went out on his own it was continual practice. While he perfected his juggling work, however, he continued to work in the flying act as well. Eventually he found it difficult to do both because the blisters he acquired from the flying made his hands unsuitable for juggling work.  He got his first booking as a solo juggler in 1999 with Circus Atayde.

Dandino remained with the flying act as a catcher when the troupe got its first Ringling contract in 2014. When the Ringling contract was cancelled, he found a German friend who taught him and his wife the skating act.  He worked that act with Circus Flic Flac in Germany for two years, just prior to joining the Big Apple Circus.

In the meantime Ammed grew up watching his older brothers, but he was always too young to join the act. But he insisted, “I wanted to be with them.  When they started teaching me they were all involved.  My brother Abdon, who is the second oldest had the most passion for the flying. He got me into my career.”

By that time the flyer Miguel Vazquez had already achieved fame for completing the quadruple somersault with Ringling. Of course the Garcias like many circus performers, flyers in particular, saw the videos of Vazquez’ spectacular accomplishment.  “ When I saw that I was amazed,”  Ammed says. “Something got into my head, and I wanted to do it, too.  It was always in my head.”

To achieve that ambition was a slow process and many years passed with no opportunity to practice it. When the Flying Tuniziani split the troupe up Abdon and Ammed went with Cirque du Soleil to Macau.  Abdon was then the catcher.  Ammed was nineteen at the time and throwing a triple.  He credits Abdon for being the one who said “it was time to go for the next chapter.”

But something held him back. “I had faith I could do it, but still I was also afraid of injuring myself.  But Abdon kept after me and finally I threw my first quad into the net.”  That was it.  “I was hooked.  I loved everything about it, and I remembered how much I had wanted to do it.  What I wanted to be.”

After only a few weeks of practice he had to stop for six or seven months. Cirque du Soleil is very strict about  what they allowed their performers to do on their own time.  They didn’t want them hurting themselves doing anything outside of the show that would render them unable to perform.  Finally he convinced them it was safe for him to practice the quad.  That gave him three weeks before the show closed, and he spent the next six months at home practicing by himself.  “With no catcher I lost my timing,”  he recalls.  Cirque  hired him again for Mystere, but  by this time Dandino had started doing  the roller act, so work on the quad remained stalled.

From 2011 to 2014 the quad was put aside, and in 2014 Ammed broke his shoulder. That meant nine months of rehab.  Then in 2014 the Tuniziani troupe was contracted  to play Ringling.  Abdon was once again the catcher.  Finally Ammed was able to try the quad to a familiar catcher.  But the Ringling’s, like Cirque du Soleil, did not encourage his working on this dangerous trick.  During his second contract with Ringling, the flying act got a new catcher, Adriano, an Italian who had caught quad before.  “He told me he thought he could catch my quad.”  On October 6, 2016, a date that obviously sticks in Ammed’s mind, he and Adriano touched hands.  That convinced the Felds to let him try for it.  After three attempts they caught their first quad in a performance.

“I called my brothers and Miguel [Vazquez],” Ammed recalls with excitement. He called Miguel because “he is my inspiration.  We all live in Las Vegas.  He never worked with me in person but he saw my videos and offered advice.  He was very happy for me.  He told me he knew I was going to be next after him.”

The brothers were equally excited and proud of what their little brother had achieved. Adriano is still Ammed’s catcher, but  working together in the same show the older brothers can share in thrill of watching Ammed achieve what they had all dreamed about when they first saw Trapeze.

Now on the lot in Lincoln Center everyday seems like a family celebration to the Garcia families. All the cousins together are experiencing the joy of sharing everything together. “Everything has fallen into place like the computer game of Tetris,” Dandino recalls telling his wife.  “It is like a dream come true.”  Watching their young brother, he says, “reminds us of the time when he just began and he was watching us.”

Photos by Maike Schulz