Under the big top | AspenTimes.com

Under the big top

Jill Beathard
Snowmass Sun
Giovanni Zoppe is Nino the clown, a different sort of character than most Americans are used to clowns being, he said, and a central part of the show.
Tami Molinaro/Courtesy photo |

Zoppe Family Circus


4 p.m. and 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 28

1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29

1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30

Base Village lawn


$20 for General Admission

$25 for VIP chair seating

$100 for VIP Premier


Use code “circus” to receive a $5 discount when buying tickets online

The circus is coming to town.

But this isn’t just any dog-and-pony show — this is the Zoppé Italian Family Circus, a performance steeped in a rich, 173-year-old legacy that is trying to keep the traditions of great circus acts alive in the U.S.

Founded in 1842 and brought to the U.S. in the mid-20th century, today its legacy is being kept alive by siblings Giovanni, Tosca and Carla Zoppé, the great-great-grandchildren of the French clown and the Hungarian ballerina who eloped to Italy and started a circus there.

“We try and reach back into our history as much as possible and recreate what was,” said Giovanni Zoppé, whose first time in the ring was at 2 weeks old.

Every year, the show changes, but the family acts — Giovanni as Nino the clown, Tosca as an equestrian ballerina, and Carla and her husband with performing dogs — stay the same.

Based in the Italian theater style of “commedia,” every show has a loose story line but is more about slapstick comedy, visual acts and audience participation — the latter of which makes every performance a little different, Giovanni said.

Giovanni as Nino the clown is more of a “pagliaccio” — the Italian term for clown — which has a different connotation than the American idea of the word, he said.

“I’m not going to be twisting any balloons, no big shoes,” Giovanni explained. “My character is me 30 years ago when I was a child.”

Other acts that the Snowmass audience can expect are a hair hang — yes, a woman acrobatically hangs from her hair — something that’s not done often in modern circuses, Giovanni said. Another is the rolla bolla, where an acrobat rolls on a board over a cylinder, and then adds board over the cylinder until he is seven levels high.

The show has something for everyone and “children” of any age, Giovanni said. Going to the circus is an important part of culture in many other countries, and the Zoppés are trying to keep it alive here, he said.

“Circus is really for everyone,” Giovanni said. “Some people feel it’s only children, but it’s really for entire families.”