If you experience a sense of déjà vu while driving past the circus tent by Hacienda Drive, it's because you've likely seen the movie "Water for Elephants". Circus Vargas' elegant blue gold-accented tent, which recently appeared in a long-vacant lot near , was featured in the film "Water for Elephants".
Unlike "Water for Elephants" fictitious circus - which shocked audiences with cruel treatment of circus animals - Circus Vargas decided in 2010 to completely eliminate animal acts. For our family that move was important. We've enjoyed Cirque du Soleil for many years - applauding the reinvention of a non-animal, artistic (yet still thrilling) circus. The downside of Cirque du Soleil is its success - attending a Cirque show in decent seats can cost a family of four several hundred dollars, and the balance of artistry/dance to thrills can make Cirque shows less appealing to younger children.
For my younger daughter and I, Circus Vargas provided a thrilling and fun (if sometimes slightly campy - but in a good way) afternoon of entertainment. Tickets range from $25 - $50 for adults and from $15 - $40 for children. There discount coupons available (the local station at Hacienda Crossings, for example, has $5 off coupons for children tickets). This compares to ticket prices ranging from $45 - $260 for adults and $28 - $182 for children for Cirque du Soleil's upcoming "TOTEM" show (opening in San Francisco later this year).
In a way, seeing Circus Vargas is like seeing a minor league baseball game - the calibre of the acts is very high, but in a much more intimate setting and for a much lower price. We chose the intermediate "Arena" price (but honestly the cheapest seats are just as good value). You are so close to the action that you can really appreciate the strength and skill of the performers.
Highlights included very simple acts - like Jon Weiss' remarkable ability to balance enormous, heavy everyday objects on his chin (such as a large metal shopping cart and a ten foot tall ladder). Simple, seemingly effortless, yet spectacular - no tricks, just skill. For my younger daughter and I this was our favorite part of the show.
Traditional acts such as the flying trapeze also benefited from the intimacy of the setting - our seats were beneath the trapeze net, with the performers soaring and twirling right above us.
Circus Vargas also performs several acts without wires (where you'd likely see wires and harnesses at a Cirque du Soleil show). That added tingling sense of "no wires" danger was most notable during Leo Garcia's "Wheel of Destiny" act where Leo walks on the outside of a 30 foot high revolving pendulum. Spoiler alert - after completing the feat with the benefit of sight, he does the same stunt blindfolded - testing how long the audience can hold its collective breath. At our performance a front row family was able to experience this thrill just feet away from the swinging performer.
Another highlight was Victor Kim's aerial display of strength and form. Again, the intimacy of the setting made his performance suspended high above the ring on two aerial straps an impressive feat. You could see every move and facial expression in a way not possible in a larger venue.
The finale included three motorcycles, a large steel sphere, and a major dose of "don't try this at home". This is the only part of the show that gets noisy enough for younger children to cover their ears.
If you have a child who isn't a fan of traditional circus clowns, don't worry. Matti the Clown provides excellent (and non-scary) entertainment between performances (providing a distraction while the crew sets up the next act). Circus Vargas has also wisely chosen to leave out loud flash-bang effects which can startle young children.
After the show all of the performers wait for the audience outside to meet, greet and sign autographs. A fitting family-friendly way to end an intimate circus experience.
The Rotary Club of Dublin worked with Circus Vargas to secure the venue, and collects $5 for on-site parking (all parking proceeds are used for Rotary Club charitable initiatives).
Circus Vargas continues this weekend through Monday July 18 in the unmissable "big top" tent at the intersection of I-580 and Hacienda Drive in Dublin, just across the street from the Hacienda Crossings shopping mall.