Clowns used to be the worst part of circuses. Their Bozolike costumes, cliched slapstick routines, and manipulative attempts at pathos cast a pall over a rich tradition. To this day clowns are often reviled as lame or evil, even murderous. But over the past decade or so clowns have taken their art more seriously. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that serious clowns have been allowed to ply their trade–the world seems full of such bright, imaginative, original performers as Bill Irwin, David Larible, Avner the Eccentric, and the tinted folks of Blue Man Group. But few take the art to the heights that Bello Nock does at the Big Apple Circus, based in New York. Capable of winning laughs with small, subtle routines, this trained acrobat also thinks nothing of risking his life–climbing poles more than 100 feet tall, for example–in pursuit of a good gag. And after earning his guffaw, Nock will turn around and do something so breathtakingly graceful he seems the reincarnation of Charlie Chaplin. He never repeats himself–even those who saw him in last year’s edition of the Big Apple will be surprised by this year’s show, which includes an extended routine on a trampoline combining the best of Nock the jester and Nock the acrobat. Arlington International Racecourse, Euclid and Wilke (enter on Euclid), Arlington Heights, 312-902-1500 (or 800-922-3772 for wheelchair-accessible seating or additional information). Opening performances Saturday, June 10, 1 and 5 PM. Through June 25: Wednesdays-Thursdays, 7 PM; Fridays, 11 AM and 7 PM; Saturdays-Sundays, 1 and 5 PM; Wednesday, June 14, 11 AM and 7 PM; Saturday, June 24, 5 PM only. $12-$34. –Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bertrand Guay.