Teri Silver is not only a journalist, she is a longtime lover of the circus. Teri now lives this dream through words and her circus friends.
Standing on a platform raised 35 feet above the ground, Ammed Tuniziani picks up a porous fabric bag, tapping it several times and rubbing his hands with the exuding white chalk powder. Tuniziani’s wife and partner, Estefani Evans, pushes the trapeze bar back and forth as Ammed gets ready to take his initial swing. Members of the Flying Tuniziani—Ammed, Estefani, Mauricio Navas, and catcher Adriano de Quadra—perform amazing trapeze feats with Big Apple Circus. The flyers use this white, talcum-like substance for providing a smooth grip on the bar.
“We apply powder to our hands before each swing on the trapeze,” Ammed Tuniziani told me. “It gives us a stronger, drier hold and prevents slipping ... I like gymnast chalk better than the rosin some flyers prefer. We rub the chalk on our hands and wrists to help our catcher hang on when we land in his hands.”
Getting into position on the platform, Ammed Tuniziani takes hold of the bar and swings, launching his body into an upward arch for height, speed, and momentum. On the second swing, Tuniziani releases the trapeze—he spins four times through the air toward the waiting hands of catcher Adriano de Quadra.
As all trapeze aficionados know, this is a grand feat that only a few human beings have ever achieved.
Hello, flying quadruple somersault!
Ammed Garcia—or, Ammed Tuniziani as he is most famously known—is a third generation circus performer and trapeze artist, born in the summer of 1990 to Jose (Dandino) Garcia and Fatima Janette Maltese in Chetumal, Quintana ROO (Mexico).
“I was basically born in the circus,” Tuniziani says. “My debut as a trapeze flyer was in a show in Torino, Italy. In December of 2000, my family was with Circus Florilegio from the Togni family. It was me and my four brothers; the Flying Tuniziani.”
Why the name ‘Tuniziani?,’ I asked.
“We took the name ‘Tuniziani’ from my grandfather, Abdula Maltese,” Ammed replied. “He was from Italy … a tumbler and floor acrobat. He used to have an acrobatic troupe from Tunis called ‘Tunisiani.’ My brothers and I wanted to continue with his name, so we became ‘the Flying Tuniziani.’”
The Early Years
Ammed Tuniziani began his training at age 7 at Circo Atayde Hermanos in Mexico.
“Our coach, Raul Gaona, taught me for the first five years of my career,” Tuniziani recalled. “After that my second oldest brother, Abdon Garcia, was the one who taught me up until 2014, our last season together at Ringling Bros. He moved on after that and I stayed with Ringling until it closed in May of 2017.
“For me, it was the best thing I could ever do … fly on the trapeze and try to be like my brothers,” Ammed continued. “Of course, nothing is easy—it takes time and dedication.”
Ammed Tuniziani’s parents were no strangers to a circus ring. His mother, Venezuelan-born Fatima Janette Maltese, was a floor acrobat. Ammed’s father was an illusionist who also worked in theater and Las Vegas stage shows.
“My oldest brothers wanted to do trapeze; it started back in the 1980s when my dad and uncles ran a circus in Venezuela,” Tuniziani recollected. “My brothers (Dandino and Abdon) wanted to fly but in Venezuela at that time, there were no flyers or shows with anyone who could teach them.”
Knowing that Mexican circuses—large or small—were sure to have trapeze acts, Jose Garcia and his family returned to Mexico in 1990.
“In Mexico, we met our trapeze coach, Mr. Raul Gaona ... the best coach anyone could have! At least, that’s what I think,” Ammed confirmed with a smile in his voice. “As a circus boy, I had all kinds of training but mainly trampoline and trapeze. It was a lot of fun … I loved jumping and spinning on the trampoline and trying out new tricks, I would do it for hours and hours. I always got into trouble with my mom because I wouldn’t come to eat. I was jumping and twisting and I didn’t want to take any time away from that. I didn’t want to miss anything!”
Climbing the Ladder
It was the year 2000 when young Ammed Tuniziani began his career as a flyer; he and his family traveled to Italy to become part of Torino’s Circo Florilegio.
After one year with Florilegio, the Tunizianis returned to Mexico to perform with Circus Vazquez. In 2003, the Flying Tuniziani came to America; touring in the United States with Circo Osorio and a number of other shows.
“It’s hard to remember all the shows we’ve done since I started,” Ammed Tuniziani told me, “because, honestly, there were so many of them. For about five years, we did more than 10 circus shows. But when we came to the United States we performed with Hanneford, Coronas, James Plunket, Tarzan Zerbini, Joe Bauer, and a number of ‘spot’ dates from 2003 to 2006. We were at Circus Circus (casino) in Las Vegas in 2007 and 2008."
And Then ...
“In 2010, I joined up with Cirque du Soleil for the ‘Zaia’ show in Macau, China—that lasted until February, 2012. From October, 2012 to November, 2013, I was with a cirque show in Las Vegas called ‘Mystere,’” Tuniziani added.
In July of 2013, producers from Feld Entertainment, the owners of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, sought out the Flying Tuniziani for The Greatest Show on Earth. Then dubbed ‘Solar Hawks’ by Ringling, the aerialists developed a doublewide trapeze stunt featuring four consecutive triple somersaults in mid air.
“We were the same troupe as always—the Flying Tuniziani,” Ammed recounted, “but Ringling producers did not want to announce our name, for whatever their reasons were.”
Ammed and the Flying Tuniziani performed in Ringling’s ‘Legends’ show during 2014 and 2015, and then with the ‘Out of This World’ tour that began in the summer of 2016. The Ringling circus show closed permanently in May of 2017.
“Now we’re at Big Apple Circus,” says Estefani Evans Tuniziani. “It is wonderful.”
The Highest Height
Ammed Tuniziani has perfected many difficult tricks throughout his flying career—a double-twisting double somersault, triple tuck, and triple pike—just to name a few. On October 6, 2016, while practicing with the troupe in Denver, Colorado, he completed his first quadruple somersault; a feat that only a few men have ever been able to do. In the months to come, lucky audiences were able to see the young trapeze artist throw the quad rather frequently; the Flying Tuniziani added it to their act with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“I am very fortunate,” he says. “I have the support of my family and friends. My brother Abdon was my coach for many years; he worked with me on the quad long before I actually caught it. And my catcher Adriano de Quadra has great hands! I am grateful that he is such a good friend and partner.”
The Show Must Go On
In January of 2017, the producers of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that after 146 years, the iconic show would celebrate its final performance on May 21, 2017.
Ammed and the Flying Tuniziani would no longer perform for The Greatest Show on Earth, but they weren’t through in America—not by a long shot! In September of 2017, the troupe began rehearsals with Big Apple Circus.
“Big Apple was amazing for us,” Ammed told me. “They treated us so well … first class … and they were happy and satisfied with the job we did. Big Apple provided me with everything I need—a motorhome, rig and so much more. It’s different here than it was with Ringling. We felt so respected with Big Apple; like real performers. The folks at this circus took care of me and my entire troupe … physically and artistically, too!”
Ammed Tuniziani says it was wonderful to fly with Big Apple Circus.
“The show’s producers were always trying to make us feel comfortable and they surely cared about what we’re doing! When we worked out the costuming, for example, they made all the changes we needed so that the outfits fit right and move as we do. They never said ‘no’ to anything we wanted to make our act better.”
Big Apple Circus was first established in 1977. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2016, but a business entity purchased the show—it is now produced by an organization called Big Top Works. The show is now touring in select U.S. cities.
Questions and Answers with Ammed Tuniziani
What is it like to be a trapeze flyer? How does one train for this specialized career? I asked Ammed Tuniziani how he and the Flying Tuniziani prepare for life in the air.
What is your workout and training routine?
“I go to the gym for cardio exercise and shoulder strengthening, and we practice for two hours, three days a week," Tuniziani says. "I don’t like to keep a routine when training because I get bored and tired of doing the same type of thing. I try to do new tricks and other ones that I haven’t done in a while, or I do some that I don’t usually perform. This way, I keep my training sessions fun and bring more energy to the practice.”
What do you eat? When?
I don’t have a very strict diet but I do try to eat as healthy as I can—not too much red meat, for example," Ammed explained. "We eat at home as much as possible so instead of going out, my wife (Estefani Evans) will cook for us. On performance days, I usually eat at least two hours before we present our act and after that, I don’t eat anything at all.
"On a three-show day, I’ll eat very small platters every couple of hours so that I can keep my energy level up and not be hungry all day. Sometimes, it’s only fresh fruit.”
What is it like to be up on the trapeze platform?
“For me, it’s like living my dream and making that dream come true every single time," Ammed Tuniziani says excitedly. "It’s what I’ve sacrificed so much for, and what I have been doing ever since I can remember. Hard to describe, really, but I am the most comfortable up on that platform, and I feel like I’m on top of the world.
“We are only 35 feet high but to me, it’s the greatest feeling. I have two trapeze bars but the one I use in performance is my favorite. It is hand-made and custom fit especially for me—a gift from my friend, Rolando Bells. The trapeze bar is perfectly crafted and has a unique design on each end.”
Why and how do you tape your hands?
“I use Jaybird adhesive tape underneath grip pads and bandages; I have it wrapped around my wrists. The tape protects my skin from splicing open or developing blisters, and it keeps bandages firmly in place so they don’t slip … especially if my palms are sweating. I have two wraps of bandages—the first one goes on top of the tape.
"The second bandage is for the top of my grip pads to keep them from moving, unwrapping or falling off. These wrappings also help my catcher to have a better hold when we reach for each other. Adriano (de Quadra) also tapes his wrists; he uses cotton bandages. This helps us flyers, as well.”
Of all the tricks you do, what is your favorite?
“The quad is up there, of course, but I’d say my favorite is a double twist. It’s a double twisting double layout that we just call a double-double. It is always so fun to do. I like that we can do a variety of stunts.”
What are you, Mauricio and Estefani working on in practices?
“I go through my tricks and do other ones to stay fresh. I like to mix things up so I don’t get bored with the same things. I’ll work on the quad, too," says Tuniziani. "Mauricio (Navas) is practicing triples and Estefani (Evans) works on triples and double layouts. We practice a few times a week, depending on the schedule.”
How do you work out new tricks?
“When we are learning new tricks, we start by practicing on the trampoline or in the net before going up on the platform," Ammed Tuniziani told me. "This way, we have an idea of what we’ll be doing when up in the air. We work on perfecting it in the net—sometimes that takes weeks or even months before we’ll do it on the trapeze. We do not use safety lines or belts during practice or performances. Some flyers use them but we never do.”
Is there a special way to fall into the net?
“Yes, it is important to fall straight and flat on your back … that is the safest way. Sometimes when flyers miss a trick, we lose control of our movements because of the speed and height of the fall; that makes it difficult to change the position we’re in. We try to land flat on our backs but it doesn’t always work that way ... sometimes we can have a bad landing—that can lead to getting hurt.”
Ammed Garcia Tuniziani met the love of his life, Brazilian-born Estefani Evans, in October of 2010. For the troupe’s first contract with Cirque du Soleil (‘Zaia’), the Flying Tuniziani wanted to add more players for its doublewide trapeze tricks.
“We held our rehearsals in Los Angeles, California at Circus Vargas,” Tuniziani said smiling, remembering those early days. “Stef was a new flyer for the troupe and we became really good friends. That led to dating, for real, and I guess we really liked each other—especially in the air! Well, it was meant to be, and so here we are, happily married. We have two wonderful kids, a boy and a girl. Stef and I continue our passion for flying and performing together; for me, it is amazing and I love it every single day!”
“Yeah … " Estefani said laughing, "he’s OK."
A native of Brazil, Estefani Evans began her career as a contortionist but it wouldn’t be long before she heard the trapeze calling.
“I am most definitely a circus girl,” Estefani said proudly. “Five generations on my mom’s side (from Argentina) and four from my dad’s side (Brazil and Canada). Most of our family members were trapeze artists and we still are! My brothers are in Brazil doing trapeze and my nephews are starting the new generation. My son, Davi, has already been on the trapeze swing; it was his first time last summer. That was an exciting day for all of us.”
Estefani Evans remembers that day in 2010 when she first met Ammed Tuniziani.
“When I first saw him, well, you know it … it was love at first sight. I remember thinking how comfortable he looked in the air and how easy it was for him. And, yes, that he was pretty cute,” she smiled.
As an aerialist with the Big Apple Circus, Estefani Evans has her own specialty act—gracefully spinning and twisting on a lira hoop. It takes some strength and practice, says Estefani, but it is all part of her day as a working mom. And, as such, ‘Lady Tunizani’ balances her professional life with keeping a home and raising their two young children, Davi and Alysha.
“Of course, we hope the children will eventually want to be circus performers but it will ultimately be up to them. The kids look at us now and say they want to learn trapeze like their mom and dad. That’s a nice feeling because we are a traditional circus family.”
“Our daughter Alysha is very young to start now,” Ammed chimed in. “But Davi is starting already. He’s swinging on the trapeze bar but mostly, I’m teaching him how to jump in the net and tuck forward and backward. Alysha loves to stretch and dance, like a ballerina.”
Ammed Tuniziani, the youngest of the five Garcia brothers, is happy to have his family nearby; two of the men also perform with Big Apple Circus.
“My oldest brother, Dandino Garcia, does a roller skate act with his wife, Luciana. They’re up on a six-foot round table doing many acrobatic tricks while spinning around the platform. My brother Gamal (Garcia) is the juggler of the Big Apple show. He juggles heavy clubs and bouncing balls over a three-foot high table, it’s an incredible act!
“I also have two brothers who are living in Las Vegas; Abdon Garcia and Abdiel Garcia. They build circus materials and rigging. My brothers built the entire trapeze rig I use with Big Apple,” Ammed Tuniziani said proudly.
“My parents live in Las Vegas, too, and they look after our home, which is also there. Whenever they can, they will come to visit us and have time with their grandchildren. I think sometimes they miss circus life, too,” Ammed said with a wink.
Ammed and Estefani see their parents and extended families as often as possible. “But no matter where we are," she says, "we also have our circus family.”
Show Day Routine
The family Tuniziani has a busy lifestyle, especially on performance days.
“Here at the Big Apple, my wife and I wake up at 6:30 in the morning to get our son, Davi, ready for school,” says Ammed Tuniziani. “Davi goes to public schools in some cities we play; Big Apple does not have a school for us like Ringling did. We’ll drop him off and come back to bed around 8 a.m. for another couple of hours of sleep.”
About School ....
“Yes, Davi goes to public school when he can,” Estefani acknowledged, “but Alysha is too young right now. Sending Davi to public school is not easy because we have to look ahead in each city. But Big Apple helps us with the documents needed, such as letters to prove our address.
"When we were with Ringling, they had a school for all the kids—it’s like that in some European shows—but in Central and South America, circus parents also have to find schools in each city they travel to. I appreciate that Big Apple helps us with this; it is my first time. My grandmother did it for my mom, and my mom did it for me and so now I do it for my children. Davi makes friends so easily in each city we visit. He loves to go to school,” Estefani said warmly.
When necessary, the children are also home-schooled, says Ammed Tuniziani. "Sometimes the public schools are too far away from where we are at the circus, and it gets rather complicated to coordinate everything. We have a good home-school program. It's a little better because he (Davi) isn't so far away for such a long time especially if schools aren't in the neighborhood. We look at whatever works out best as it appears but so far we're liking it."
“We usually have breakfast anytime from 10 to noon,” Ammed Tuniziani continued. “If we only have only one performance scheduled for the day, Stef and I will go to the gym for a workout; usually from about noon to 2 p.m.
“At 2:55, if he's there, it’s time to pick up Davi from school. Then at 4 o’clock, my wife and I eat lunch. At 5:30, we’ll have some coffee and then start getting ready for the show; it is time for showers and Stef puts on her make-up. Around 6:20, I start heading to the dressing room and begin my warm-up for the performance … that takes about 40 minutes … so at 7 o’clock, we are ready to fly! After the performance is over and the audience has left, we set up the trapeze for practice at night—from about 10 p.m. to midnight.”
The Tuniziani family lifestyle varies somewhat when performances are scheduled during the day, or if there is more than one show (sometimes during the week but usually on Saturdays).
Ammed Tuniziani injured his shoulder in August of 2014; the damage led to surgery in December of that year.
“I had what is called a “slap” tear … part of the shoulder labrum,” he said.
The shoulder labrum is a ring of cartilage around the socket that holds the upper arm. ‘SLAP’ stands for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior. The top area is also where the bicep tendon connects to the labrum. Surgery is necessary because these tears cannot heal themselves.
“It took me around 10 months to fully come back and swing on a trapeze,” Ammed recalled dolefully, “I had to work very hard in my physical therapy and then back to performing triples, double-doubles and all of my tricks.”
On a personal note, because I recently had surgery on my shoulder (the result of a car accident), Ammed and I chat occasionally about his injury and rehabilitation. It continues to be a challenge for me but if this young man can turn four somersaults while flying through the air, surely I can better manage to hang up clothes and empty the dishwasher.
Ammed Tuniziani says that any of us can achieve positive results, when dealing with this type of adversity.
“Don’t worry and be patient. The more you rush it, the longer it will take to recover. Your positivity has a lot to do with healing. But I’m not going to lie,” he laughed, “my shoulder has not come back exactly to where it was before the injury and surgery. I have days when I wish I didn’t have to fly because it is still painful—but I warm up as much as I can and do my stretching exercises. Yes, sometimes it does hurt but luckily, those days are very few.”
This SLAP tear shoulder injury has not stopped trapeze flyer Ammed Tuniziani from doing what he does best—check out the quad!
There are only a few men in the world that have successfully completed the quadruple somersault. Ammed Tuniziani says they all learn from each other.
“Miguel Vazquez was the first to toss the quad successfully, and he did it the most times in all of circus history! (2987 times between 1982 and 1990). Vazquez has always been an idol of mine and now we are very close friends—he and our families. I talk regularly with Ruben Caballero and Miguel Vargas, too.”
Ever since Miguel Vazquez started the trend in the early 1980s, many more flyers have joined the ‘Quad Club.’ The list includes: Louis Caballero; Ruben Caballero Sr.; Ruben Caballero Jr.; Gino Fuentes; Richard Galvis; Juan Cebolla Gasca; the Luna Brothers; Michael Martini; Luis Poema; and Bruno Vargas.
Membership is open!
We have all heard the phrases, 'you only live once' and 'life is short.' My favorite is 'celebrate life; this is not a dress rehearsal.'
Recognizing special moments of ‘today’ is an important part of life; it is easy to get caught up in our daily routines and not absorb the magic of what is happening around us. For Ammed Tuniziani, being on top of the world and doing what he loves best is never taken for granted.
“I have trapeze, my wife and my family. It is all truly a gift from God.”
And, that it truly is.
“So,” I asked Ammed mischievously, “you’ve got the quad, when do we start working on five revolutions?”
“Well,” he said laughing, “Not yet but maybe soon. I have a lot more quadruples in me and the mechanics need to stay consistent. But you never know when that time will come. Meanwhile, we will keep practicing and dreaming.”
Keep flying, my friends, your dreams are 35 feet straight up.
Update: January, 2020
After a successful stint with Big Apple Circus, the Flying Tuniziani returned to their home in Nevada to prepare for the prestigious Monte-Carlo International Circus Festival in Monaco -- it's the dream of every circus artist! Troupe Tuniziani added a few new members for a more dazzling flying act -- and it paid off! The Flying Tuniziani won the coveted Gold Clown award in Monte-Carlo.
"I still cannot believe it," says Estefani. "I just want to thank everyone that supported our dream, and to everyone who is happy for us. And thank you to the amazing members of Troupe Tuniziani -- without each one of us up there, we couldn’t do it. Thank you!"
© 2018 Teri Silver