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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 12, 2010
Nockin’ on Altamont’s door
By Zach Simeone
ALTAMONT Members of the Nock family have been risking their lives for centuries to entertain, and they will bring that tradition to the Altamont Fair next week with the Nerveless Nocks Aerial Stunt and Thrill Show.
“First of all, it’s family entertainment,” said Michelangelo Nock, who inherited the company from his late father, the famed Eugene Nock. “We’re in the entertainment industry to give them a thrill and make them happy, and leave them with a smile on their faces as they leave the grandstand.”
Nock, now 44, entered the business when he was 5 years old, as his parents’ pupil.
“I started working for Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s brother, as one of the lost children on Peter Pan in 1970,” Nock said. “To me, it was just a way of life, because my mother did it, my father did it. So, if we were hanging 100 feet over the ground on a trapeze, I was up there with my mom and dad. It was dangerous, but you get used to it. You’re still scared, but you learn to control your fear.”
In his youth, Nock worked with such legendary entertainers as Emmett Kelly, Karl Wallenda, and Hugo Zacchini.
Now, Michelangelo Nock will entertain fairgoers with his own son, 12-year-old stuntman Cyrus Nock.
“He’s been around the world many times already,” said Nock of his son. The show will also feature aerialist Irene Espana of the world renowned Flying Espanas.
The Nerveless Nocks will perform three shows a day in Altamont, performing a series of long-practiced stunts, including: the motorcycle high wire, with one stuntman riding a motorcycle, balancing on a wire, as an aerialist hangs beneath by her toes; the giant space wheel, a massive pendulum, 40 feet high, on which the Nocks will perform somersaults and handstands, and walk blindfolded as it swings back and forth; the 80-foot sway poles, which aerialists will climb, and leap between before jumping back down to the ground; and the tower of chairs.
“This is an act to show boys and girls how my great-grandfather started performing balancing handstands and tumbling,” said Michelangelo Nock of the tower of chairs. “It’s one of the oldest acts in our family.”
In this stunt, he uses the same kind of chairs that his uncle, Pio Nock, used to perform the trick in Circus World, the 1964 film starring John Wayne.
But the family’s acrobatic history reaches back much further.
“We were established in 1840, but our show goes back into the 1700s,” said Michelangelo Nock. “The Nock family started Switzerland’s first circus. To entice people to come into the circus tent, it was my grant-grandmother hanging from a trapeze over the Swiss Alps,” he said.
It wasn’t until 1963 that the company got its current name.
“My father did a command performance for Queen Elizabeth in London, England,” Nock explained. “After the show, he shook the hand of the queen, and she said, ‘You are truly nerveless,’ and it just took off right there.”
That was the same year that Eugene Nock performed on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, the same episode that featured a performance from The Beatles. Previously, he had performed as a headlining stuntman for the Ringling Brothers in the 1950s. It was there that he met his wife, stuntwoman Aurelia Canestrelli.
While this will be the first year that the Nerveless team has performed in Altamont, Michelangelo Nock thinks that his family’s show will fit right in with the rest of the fair.
“I think it goes with the amusement industry,” he said. “The oldest form of entertainment is the circus, and you can’t just have a fair with carnival rides. You need the 4-H; you need the family shows. So, everything comes together; you need those elements. We’re just part of the big picture.”
After the show, audience members will have the opportunity to meet the daredevils.
“We will entertain people of all ages, from grandparents to kids,” Nock said. “Come experience something that maybe your grandparents saw when they were kids under the big top. Come see something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”