Jenny Vidbel and Spectacular Big Apple Circus Comes to Philadelphia

Animal Trainer Jenny Vidbel in Big Apple Circus National Tour Comes to the Philadelphia Mills MallWhen the time-honored Big Apple Circus comes town, third-generation animal trainer Jenny Vidbel, along with her 16 horses and ponies and six adorable rescue dogs, will be ready to charm and delight Philadelphia area audience members of all ages.

Vidbel, who has lived a fascinating circus life surrounded by beloved friends, learned the art of animal communication from her grandfather, grew up among a wide variety of domestic and exotic animals, and she trained her first pony when she was just nine years old. She is clearly an animal whisperer.

She is one of the members of the full lineup of global artists and acts, which include 10-time world record-holding high wire artist Nik Wallenda, all playing under the Big Top to enthralled multi-generational audiences.

World renowned for its one-ring, intimate and artistic style, the circus is passionate about revitalizing the circus for modern-day audiences with unique and astounding human feats, and innovative design and technology.

The 40th anniversary season program features the famous seven-person pyramid on the high wire with Nik Wallenda and The Fabulous Wallendas and the daring quadruple somersault attempted on the trapeze by The Flying Tunizianis – the first time in circus history that both legendary feats are performed under the same Big Top.The record-setting acts are joined by Dandino & Luciana, a dynamic duo who combine speed, acrobatics and daredevil grace on roller-skates; award-winning contortionist Elayne Kramer; master juggler Gamal Garcia; Jan Damm on the Rola Bola; acclaimed Risley acrobats The Anastasini Brothers (who broke the World Record for Most Flips on November 9, 2017); Ringmaster Ty McFarlan; hilarious clowns Skip & Mr. Joel; and circus trainer & presenter Jenny Vidbel, who performs in the ring with 16 horses and ponies, as well as six rescue dogs.

While celebrating the Big Apple Circus’ 40th Anniversary National Tour the ringmaster, performers, animals, and more will provide exhilarating family entertainment from Wednesday, May 23, through Sunday, June 24, at the Philadelphia Mills Mall.

Not only does this extraordinary circus, filled with memorable talent, was founded in 1977 by circus performers Paul Binder and Michael Christensen with a mission to present authentic and thrilling circus arts, in the intimacy of the one-ring Big Top, where no seat is more than 50 feet from the performers.

In addition to its world-renowned reputation for presenting exceptionally unique and astounding acts, the Big Apple Circus –dubbed the ‘Circus With A Heart’ – has distinguished itself by demonstrating a strong social conscience in its programming, maintaining a vital no wild or exotic animal’s policy.

The talent in front of the audience, as well as behind the scenes, is truly top-notch every step of the way.The Big Apple Circus 40th Anniversary Season is directed by Mark Lonergan, artistic director of three-time Drama Desk Award-nominated physical theater company Parallel Exit, with choreography and associate direction by Antoinette DiPietropolo and music direction by Rob Slowik.

Tony Award-winning Lighting Designer Jeff Croiter (Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten!), Scenic Designers Rob Bissinger (Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, Legally Blonde) and Anita LaScala (Magic Mike Live) of ARDA Studio, Inc, and Drama Desk-nominated Costume Designer Amy Clark(Heathers: The Musical, and Chaplin) come together to create a vibrant environment to fit the momentous occasion of the circus’s return.From the time he was a young boy, the Big Apple Circus Chairman Dr. Neil Kahanovitz dreamt of becoming both an orthopedic surgeon and a circus performer; and he achieved both feats!  While attending medical school, he took a leave of absence and began performing in a comedy trampoline act and later as an aerialist in circuses throughout the United States.

He later returned to medical school and once he graduated, Kahanovitz went on to a distinguished career in the medical field. He has published more than 50 articles in scientific journals, written about spinal disorders in eleven medical textbooks and published a book on the care and treatment of low back pain. Additionally, from 2002-2004, Kahanovitz was a Professor of Orthopedics at Drexel School of Medicine/Hahnemann Hospital.

Outside of the ring, the Big Apple Circus continues to honor the essential and iconic characteristics that have set it apart for the past four decades with community outreach programs and a vital no-wild-animals policy.

Circus of the Senses offers special enhanced experiences for audience members with autism, visual and auditory challenges. The special performances include ASL interpretation, assistive listening devices with live audio commentary, pre- and post-show touch therapy experiences, and a braille program book.Sensory-friendly performances for autistic audience members has no intermission and will feature lowered light and sound levels, a descriptive picture book showing the different areas and acts involved with the circus, and a “calming center” that can be accessed at any point during the show.

Additionally, Circus for All, provides access to the circus to those who are underprivileged and underserved. The new owners of the circus, BigTop Works, the new, share a passion for, and history with, the circus arts, and look forward to honoring the legacy of the 40-year history.

How long have you been with the circus?

JENNY VIDBEL: I’ve been with the circus my whole life.  My grandparents ran their own small tented circus in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia – most of the Northeast. It was called Vidbel’s Old-time Circus.

How old were you when you first took the stage?

 JV: I was probably seven years old when I started performing. For me, it was always about the animals. My grandfather was an animal trainer and a brilliant communicator who was kind and respectful, and he passed it on to me. I can’t imagine my life without my animals.

Why do you feel you are an animal whisperer? What does it mean to you?

JV: I love and respect them so much. They are my family and my life and I never looked at this as a job or my training to accomplish a certain goal. Every time I walk into a practice area – the goal is to understand them and what they are feeling at that moment. They are all about being in the moment and connecting. I love spending my time on my farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where I roam the apple orchards and the fields.

My 12-year-old son has such an affinity for animals. We often go to the zoo, aquarium, farms, basically anywhere he can connect with animals. Why do you feel children in particular have such an infinity for animals?

JV: Growing up as a child you have a hard time getting people to listen to you and pay attention and connect on your level. Animals are always inquisitive and interested and children feel like equals in that the animals listen to them and pay attention and treat them as equals and not as a child.So it’s really about unconditional love?

JV: That’s exactly right

Tell me why do you love the circus?

JV: I believe that when Ringling Bros. started phasing out the animals the audience stopped coming – people came to see the animals.

This definitely seems to be the big controversy over treatment of the animals.

JV: Yes. People who stood outside with picket signs asking for the animals to go back to the wild forget that big developments took away space from animals in our country as well as in other countries. I know that just like every other endeavor that not everyone in my business is great and we definitely have to monitor ourselves. We are regulated which means serious inspections and surprise inspections, and the ones that are not up to par get their animals taken away. But I would say that a majority of these animals are so well taken care of. For me there would be no other way.

Why is that?

JV: Animals are my life – they are what I think about when I get up in the morning and what I think about when I go to bed at night.

Please tell me about your family history.

JV: My grandmother ran a horse camp at our farm for years. They were healthy and lived to an old age  – we never dumped an animal. Working with dogs and horses goes back to my roots. My grandmother and mother, Sharon Sandlofer, were horse trainers and I was always drawn to the horses who are the love of my life.And the dogs?

JV: The dogs are just fun. I live on a farm, so people would ask me to take their dogs, or people would give away dogs they could no longer care for, and I rescued them. Living on a farm this is pretty natural. My heart is with the dogs and the horses.

Have you ever been subject to unfair judgements about your handling of your animals?

JV: Yes, and that greatly upsets me. Someone will walk by my farm and see a pony that is thin, and they post a picture on social media with a caption that say, ‘look at this horribly mistreated pony,’ and they miss the fact that this is the one who is new to the farm and I am nursing him back to health. People don’t look beyond that picture to see that I have a farm full of beautiful heathy perfect animals and they take a picture of the one I just rescued. If you want to take a stand that is laudable, but please ask some questions and make sure you know what you are talking about.

You have traveled to many places with the Big Apple Circus, but this is your first time coming to Philadelphia.

JV: Yes. We haven’t been to Philadelphia in the seven years that I have been with the circus. It’s exciting to come to a new venue. The animals take up a lot of our time, but hopefully we will get to explore the area a little bit.

So what should we look forward to seeing?

JV: My goofy group of dogs are always playing and having a good time doing tricks and causing a bit of chaos.

And your horses and ponies?

JV: My horse act is the biggest presentation that I’ve ever trained. I have 18 horses and ponies and 12 miniature horses and ponies, and my Arabian horses come in and show off their skills and they come back together for a group of 18.What is your favorite part of the show as an animal trainer?

JV: The morning is my favorite time of the day. It is the time when I am connecting with my animals. It is quiet and with the beautiful space the circus provides – I find the quiet time to be the most romantic time of the circus.  Many of the other performers are still in bed and I am working on training – which is what I love to do.

What is the biggest challenge with the circus?

JV: I would say that cold, rainy, and windy days when I still have to put on a costume and look presentable and not look like I came out of the stable and make 18 horses look perfectly groomed in the cold, wind, and the rain.

You are really committed to children and animals.

JV: Yes. We just started a nonprofit foundation, the Al & Joyce Vidbel Foundation, with a goal to bring children with special needs and seniors to our farm to care for and interact with all of our animals on our farm.

We know you for your dogs and horses, but have you worked with other animals?

JV: Yes. I worked with the world’s largest rodent – a Capybara from South America – whose name was Bob.

Was it tough to train this animal?

JV: Well, I discovered his favorite treat were orange popsicles and all of his training required orange popsicles.  Bob would do anything for orange popsicle, but not the rainbow ones or other flavors, it had to be orange.

Any other unusual animals?

JV: Yes. I had an African porcupine. He was very smart and so affectionate. He loved to climb on my lap, and I had to make sure he did it carefully. He also loved having his belly rubbed. He was such an angel; I loved that little guy.

So why should families come to the Big Apple Circus in Philadelphia?

JV: The Big Apple Circus is so intimate and personal with no seat more than 50 feet away. This means you can smell the horses and fell the horse hoof beats as they are cantering by. You can see the sweat from the flying trapeze. It’s like you are part of the show itself. We have really amazing family talent from all over the world and at the highest level. There is something for multi-generations — grandkids, parents, grandparents and great grandparents. There are no stars in this circus and the human and animal performers are so versatile that there is truly something for everyone.

Circus is really in your blood.

JV: Yes. My siblings are circus people and mom has slowed down, but she still goes to fairs and festivals with her animals.

Your family really has a circus legacy.

JV: Absolutely, and one I am extremely proud of.

How did you spend your time when the Big Apple Circus was closed for a year?

JV: I loved to be home and having the opportunity to hang with the animals with peace and quiet. But it was also a difficult time. The Big Apple Circus treats me and my animals so well, and it would be hard to find another venue to treat us as well – so the unknown was difficult. We are like a family, so it was wonderful to get back under the tent and perform again. We all love what we do![email protected] on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

The Big Apple Circus will be playing at the Philadelphia Mills Mall located in the parking lot in front of Dave & Buster’s at 1995 Franklin Mills Circle. Tickets are on-sale and may be purchased in advance at or by calling (800) 653-8000. Tickets start at $15 for weekday performances and $20 for weekend performances, plus applicable fees.


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