Corrections or additions?

This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the May 21, 2003

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Bello the Circus Clown Shows His Serious Side

There are the elephants. There are the tigers. There

are the astounding acrobats. And there is Bello.

Bello risks his life five or six times a day, most days of the week.

He does it willingly — and joyfully — as a clown in Ringling

Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus. The famous circus comes to the

Sovereign

Bank Arena in Trenton for eight shows, Thursday, May 29, to Sunday,

June 1.

The circus follows a long traditional but Bello is not your

standard-issue

clown. "I guess you could call me a comic daredevil," says

Bello, whose official name is actually Bello Nock. During a recent

phone interview prior to his Trenton shows, Bello spoke about his

blend of comedy and breathtaking acrobatic feats has won him the

appellation

"America’s Best Clown" by Time Magazine.

"That was terrific, and I certainly don’t mind the acclaim,"

says Bello. "But I feel like the luckiest guy in the world because

I love what I do, with or without acclaim."

Bello’s Swiss entertainment roots run wide and deep, with seven

generations

of the family in some form of the business like no other. His own

parents were circus performers — his dad was, in fact, one of

the first circus performers to perform a sway-pole act, literally

swaying back and forth on a 90-foot-high, tube-like pole as audiences

gasped. Dad appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on a rather momentous

night: it was the same evening the Beatles made their first

appearance.

By the time he was seven, Bello, whose present trademark is his

eight-inch-tall,

bright red flat-top hair style, was on Broadway as Michael Darling

in "Peter Pan," a no-big-deal thing in a family in which show

business was routine. Bello simply remembers a "terrific time"

on the Great White Way.

But he was trained, from childhood on, in the circus arts, and has

never looked back. Bello jokes that the circus was a free choice for

him. No pressure at all from dad. "He just ordered me to try it

— for 30 or 40 years."

As it turns out, Bello truly didn’t need much convincing. "I grew

up seeing the twinkle in every kid’s eyes, and I knew that this was

what I was meant to do," he says. "This circus is older than

baseball and Coke. It’s just such a privilege to be part of it."

A privilege — and a huge daily challenge. What Bello

does may make people laugh — but it also makes them gasp. And

it takes enormous skill. "The hard part is blending the two so

that you get the chuckles — and the intensity and relief when

it’s over and you’ve won against the odds."

"He is an incredible acrobat," raved America’s gifted

performance

artist and clown Bill Irwin in Time Magazine’s America’s Best series.

"His work fits the circus ring, and he loves the crowd."

The crowd loves him back — and most kids want to know about that

hair, which is Bello’s own. "What you see is what you get —

no wig. Just weird hair!"

From what Irwin, a long-time fan, called Bello’s "world-class

trampoline work" to his high-wire tricks performed as his pants

fall off, Bello offers some of the best circus artistry of this or

any other era.

The clown himself is modest. "I don’t want the drum roll, but

I admit it — I’m an extremist. I ride a bicycle that’s literally

four inches by six inches on a high wire, and I work without a net

because to me, having a net takes away the adventure. But it’s not

something I take lightly, and I’m always prepared."

Without greasepaint or baggy pants (Bello prefers a slightly oversized

tuxedo, in keeping with the European tradition of formal circus

attire),

this circus performer still delights audiences with his antics, even

as he astonishes them with his skill.

"I make them forget their headaches and heartaches," he says

with profound understatement. When he’s performing, the crowd turns

tense and silent — until the laughter begins. Even Bello admits

that it’s an odd combination.

"You do this because you love it," says Bello. "You do

it as part of a traveling village, and you have to accept the minuses

with the pluses. But for me," says the man with his own

"big-top"

hair, "those pluses always win."

Still, the last holdouts for Bello are his own kids. Married to his

high school sweetheart, Bello has three children, all still

"civilians"

who do not perform in the circus.

Recently, when the circus landed in New York City, Bello was asked

to do a stunt that left audiences breathless. He was hanging from

a helicopter over the Statue of Liberty.

"I later learned that my son was playing Nintendo, and one of

my daughters went inside because she was cold. I guess dad just

doesn’t

impress them very much."

Bello is philosophical about the rebuff. "Nintendo wins out every

time," he quips.

Still, there’s a serious underside to all that clowning around. Bello

knows no other way of life. "The circus is like one huge melting

pot. You learn not from books but from amazing, endless experiences,

and you never stop learning," he says. "I definitely have

the best job on the planet."

— Sally Friedman

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sovereign

Arena , at Route 129, Trenton, 609-520-8383. "The Greatest Show

on Earth" features Bello the Clown, animal trainer Mark Oliver

Gebel, with acrobats, elephants, lions, and more. $10 to $30.

Thursday,

May 29, 7 p.m.; Friday, May 30, 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday, May

31, 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 1, 1:30 and 5:30 p.m.


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