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 145 HighWire Split

Not many people can perform a split, much less on a high wire as in the
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. PHOTOS COURTESY FELD
ENTERTAINMENT

Last chances to see ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ imminent

By Christopher Barker

Atlanta audiences have just a few more opportunities to see what has long been known as “the greatest show on Earth”® after a 146-year run.

Feld Entertainment, which bought Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (RBBB) in 1967, announced in January that the show will close in May after a final tour that includes two Atlanta venues. “Circus XTREME” will be at Philips Arena Feb. 15-20 and at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth Feb. 23 to March 5 (performance times are at www.ringling.com).

A second RBBB circus production called “Out of This World” is touring elsewhere in the United States this spring. Almost 10 million people have been seeing the two RBBB shows annually.

The circus started when Ulysses S. Grant was president and was so important to morale that President Franklin Roosevelt allowed circus trains to run during austere wartime.

KristenMichelleWilson

For the first time in 146 years of shows, the circus will have a female
ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson, who announces performances and
sings the production’s soundtrack.

“Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, in announcing the decision. “This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.

“The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me, which is why this was such a tough business decision to make,” Feld continued. “The decision was even more difficult because of the amazing fans that have become part of our extended circus family over the years, and we are extremely grateful to the millions of families who have made Ringling Bros. part of their lives for generations. We know Ringling Bros. isn’t only our family business, but also your family tradition.”

This year’s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey “Circus XTREME” has something that audiences who have been to the circus before haven’t seen: the show’s first female ringmaster. Kristen Michelle Wilson bested hundreds of other aspirants to become the circus tour guide this year and will sing the production’s soundtrack as well as introduce performances.

145 AlexIrinaDogs

Alex and Irina wow the circus crowd with their humor and the antics of
their trained poodles.

Alex & Irina

On their second tour with RBBB, Alex & Irina show their skills as trainers with their troupe of 16 standard and toy poodles, which demonstrate canine conga and “paw-stands,” among other features, in their part of the show.

Nitro Nicole

Nicole Sanders has been a performer since age 3, when she insisted on starting ballet classes. She injured her knees while a ballet student at Loyola University but discovered through trapeze instructor Lorelei Ashe that she could take her ballet training aerial, which was much easier on her knees.

On her second attempt, Sanders was admitted to the Circus Center in San Francisco and trained with legendary circus aerialists Victor Fomine and Elena Panova, leading to international tours. Her introduction to Ringling Bros. was a Facebook friend request to Brian Miser, “The Human Fuse” and expert cannonballer, who sends her 100 feet in the air at seven-G force with the circus cannon.

 145 BMX Group

The Freestyle Sports part of the ‘XTREME Circus’ features champion BMX
riders, slacklining and trampolines.

Freestyle Sports

BMX bike riders help bring the extreme to the “Circus XTREME” tour, with daredevils performing half-pipe tricks, 360-degree flips, hands-free jumps and more. The diverse group of champion riders who are veterans of competitive BMX range from an X Games champion to a recent high school graduate.

Performers also perform gymnastic moves on tightly-stretched slackline straps and launch off trampolines through a 15-foot transparent tower, and “XTREME Circus” artists bounce, flip and tumble around the arena in the freestyle running/parkour part of the show.

 R145 Slackline3

Performances in Atlanta and Duluth during the next month are the last
chance local audiences will have to see ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’®.

Benny Ibarra

Extreme bravery is required as daredevil Benny Ibarra maneuvers on the 16,000-pound Wheel of Steel, spinning 50 feet above the arena floor and trying to control gravity. He uses strength and agility to leap, flip frontwards and backwards and jump rope on a whirring wheel without a safety harness.

Ibarra’s grandfather inspired the Mexico City native to follow the family into circus performance. Ibarra made his debut at age 5 at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., where he learned English and began a career that has taken him around the world the past 25 years.

Mongolian Marvels

Extreme athleticism is among the traits that the Mongolian Marvels bring to RBBB. The troupe blends feats of strength with contortionism, traditional dance, ancient throat-singing, vaulting and acrobatics. Audiences will see a strongman lift 550 pounds with his teeth and an eight-person pyramid that weighs more than 880 pounds and is unique in the circus world.

The Marvels toss members hand to hand in forming human pyramids, perform exceptional flips and twists, support multiple members with hands and legs, lift huge weights and defy laws of gravity and physiology with body contortions.

“We bring together different components of Mongolian history, culture and sports all in one,” says Batbayar Bor. “To put this troupe together, we searched all over Mongolia for the most talented artists with the most extreme skills who can showcase their skills for Ringling Bros. audiences.”

 R145 BennyIbarra2

Benny Ibarra performs without a safety harness on a spinning wheel
50 feet above the arena floor.

Tabayara Maluenda

No one in the audience would eagerly switch places with Tabayara Maluenda (Taba), who demonstrates energy, passion and charisma as he controls 16 exotic Bengal tigers.

The native of Chile and sixth-generation circus performer started his career as an acrobat at age 13, giving up school to give his family financial support. The young circus aficionado enjoyed watching the animal trainers in his free time, but his mother didn’t want him to face the risks his grandfather did as a tiger trainer. But seeing legendary Ringling Bros animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams with his big cats on television inspired the young Maluenda to ignore the danger and follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Audiences will hear the trainer calling “azucar,” meaning sugar or sweet, to his tigers as he cavorts around the ring with them. One highlight of the performance is when Maluenda does a hand-stand while the tigers jump through his legs.

Desert Goddesses

Six Mongolian women perform intricate maneuvers while riding twin-humped Bactrian camels in the one-of-a-kind act. The Mongolian Cossack Riders demonstrate graceful animal artistry with trainer Colleen Pages.

The Daring Danguir

Two stories above the arena floor, The Daring Danguir troupe performs on a high wire the width of a human thumb. Among their dangerous stunts are jumping over three people, as well as leaping from the shoulders of one performer to the shoulders of another. Their show-stopping finale is a four-person pyramid.

R145 Orb

Performers from Ukraine and Russia are the Angelic Aerialists, who use an
orb for their lofty gymnastics, as well as bungee cords.

Angelic Aerialists

No circus would be complete without aerial artistry such as the two artistic displays the Angelic Aerialists present. Aerial artists from Ukraine and Russia perform an acro-ballet of bungee sky-diving that demonstrate synchronized circus skills while wearing florescent costumes illuminated by ultraviolet black light.

In their second act, the Angelic Aerialists use a metallic orb hanging high above the floor as the gymnastic apparatus for aerial performance.

Clown Alley

The face of the circus is of course the clown, and RBBB’s jokers entertain young and old with acrobatic comedy and parodies.

Tickets for reserved seats start at $15 at both local arenas (800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com for Philips and 770-626-2464 or www.InfiniteEnergyCenter.com for Duluth performances). Group rates are at 678-578-5125.

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