Circus: Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Goes to the Extreme for Family Entertainment
By: Ellis Nassour
When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ mile-long train rolls into town, it’s usually a sign that Spring is here or around the corner. Looks like Spring will be a bit late this year, but The Greatest Show on Earth is playing the New York/New Jersey area through March 22.
If you’re a dedicated circus fan, you’ve known for a number of years that RBBB isn’t the circus of your grandparents, nor even your parents. It’s changed with the times. There’s are so many distractions for your dollar these days, like this 145th edition of America’s longest-running family entertainment, producers and executive vice presidents Nicole and Alana Feld have been thinking outside the box to make the Circus relevant to a new generation. Voila! – Circus Xtreme!
It’ll be encamped at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center [easily accessible by subway and the LIRR] through March 1, then heads to Uniondale, LI’s Nassau Veterans memorial Coliseum, Newark’s Prudential Center, and East Rutherford’s IZOD Center.
The Feld’s grandfather and father produced the show for decades, each putting their imprint on RBBB. Now, Kenneth Feld has passed the baton, and the sisters feel right at home. "We grew up with so many circus memories," states Nicole. "We played with clowns, tried on glittering costumes, and were being in the enviable position of petting elephants and giraffes. Now, we get to create memories that’ll not only rekindle the magic of traditional circus but also create new magic for a new generation."
Their idea was "to create a contemporary family experience at the traditional circus people know and love. As moms, they naturally looked at what appeals to kids. "The X Games are immensely popular," says Nicole, "and we were able to bring that to audiences in a spectacular live action experience with skateboarding, BMX freestyle sports, and slack wire as only Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey can do."
To create a show compatible with the 21st Century, Nicole and Alana trek the U.S. and world to, as Alana puts it, "find the most trending artists. Circus Xtreme is our biggest extravaganza of family fun to date and takes live entertainment to a new level. It’s a super-sized, high-energy show.
"Our vision," she continues, "was to create an extreme family show that fuses traditional circus with new feats and goes from extreme thrills to extreme daredevilry, but also has extreme comedy and is extreme fun."
Director Michael Schwandt, who came to RBBB from TV, industrials, music videos, and staging live events, notes, "We’ve fused all the elements so that from the moment the show starts till the moment the show ends, you’re on this wild ride. The idea was to turn this edition on its nose and give it a raw, rock ‘n roll, steam punk esthetic. These performers set dangerous challenges, and accomplish them no matter the obstacle."
The trio let their imaginations run wild in this adrenaline-pumping feast of edge-of-the-seat feats of daring from gymnasts and acrobats, that also keeps elements audiences have come to expect: those show gals and guys in colorful outfits, mighty steeds, ferocious tigers, a herd of elephants, and, this year, a troupe of "goddesses of the desert," Bactrian camels who patiently accommodate Mongolian rider executing daring maneuvers and shooting arrows across the arena. [Wait! Sometimes circus hyperbole gets confusing. Are the "goddesses" the two-hump camels or the daring female troupe atop them?]
Snazzy ringmaster David Shipman and comic adventure seekers, Alex and Irina Emelin guide audiences on this Xtreme quest. The Ukraine duo also has a dog act that’s a riot.
One act that has to be seen to be believed combines an international cast of freestyle BMX riders, running tumblers doing skyrocketing somersaults and stunts, and champion Ukraine acrobats bouncing high off a huge trampoline to and through a 15′ transparent tower.
Then, you have the "aerial stargazers," seven Russian and Ukraine in a mash-up of acro-ballet and bungee sky diving. Do not attempt this at home!
Several acts that combine traditional circus with derring-do: the Danguir Troup of six high wire artists doing incredible feats 20 feet up that will have you gasping; the 17 "Mongolian Marvels," the Khadgaa Troupe, who specialize in contortion, and hand-and people balancing; Mexico’s Benny Ibarra on the high-speed "pendulum of steel," insanely jumping rope, doing back flips and somersaults; and Minneapolis’ Gemma Querida Kirby who’s favorite hobby is being shot across the arena as a human cannonball.
What’s a Ringling show without animals? "The wild man of Chile," quite the showman, Taba Maluenda, who first stepped into a cage of mixed wildcats at age 15 and has been determined to do it ever since, has that area fully covered – presenting elephants, camels, horses, and tigers [including some stunning whites].
Xtreme features songs by Grammy- nominees Ron Aniello, who’s collaborated with Bruce Springsteen and the likes of Bare Naked Ladies, and Michael Himelstein, writing lyrics for his ninth edition of RBBB. Choreographer is Preston Mui, a young veteran of TV (The Voice, American Idol) and who’s worked with Mariah Carey, the Pussycat Dolls, and Jennifer Lopez.
Circus Xtreme‘s family fun begins an hour before the show with all sorts of photo opts at the All Access Pre-show, which is free with your ticket, where audiences interact with performers, learn circus skills – like juggling – from the residents of Ringling’s Clown Alley, and even have the opportunity to win a one-of-a- kind masterpiece painted by one of RBBB’s Picasso of pachyderms.
A Ringling Bros. tradition continues – awarding 2015 babies born in the U.S. a free ticket for a future show. For details on how to secure your voucher visit www.Ringling.com under Special Offers/Baby’s First Circus.
RBBB is a sponsor of America Supports You. A portion of performance proceeds will benefit American Recreational Military Services, which supports deployed service members and their families.
For performance dates and times, visit www.ringling.com and check out the show line up and special offers under Circus Xtreme. Tickets, with some seats a certain performances beginning at $15, range from $40-$75 [and there are premium packages with assorted goodies. All are available at www.ticketmaster.com, by calling (800) 745-3000, and, to save on service fees, the box offices of the four arenas.