[ATTENDED: May 18, 2012] Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
The last time I saw Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was in the mid 70s. My parents took me two years in a row (and I still have the program books somewhere to prove it). I didn’t realize that the circus was still around, to be honest. I knew about all of the other circuses, but RB&B&B (what an awkward name) seemed like maybe it just went away. Well, that is not the case—apparently once you have kids who are old enough to enjoy it, the circus comes to your town.
Or more specifically, to Trenton. We thought about going to the show back in March when it was in East Rutherford and Newark but that seemed too far (and pricey). When it came to Trenton (which was actually further than we anticipated) and I could get tickets for $15/ea, that was all I needed to hear.
If anything was worth $15 it was this circus. Indeed, the joy we got out of it was worth much more than $15.
If you’ve been following along here, you know we’ve been to a number of circus-type shows over the last few months, so we are jaded circus-goers at this point. But this show was called Dragons, and that’s hard to pass up, especially if you have a soon to be 7-year-old boy (and you used to play D&D). When as the show opened and several performers came out with dragons attached to the front of Segways, I knew this was going to be fun. And that it wasn’t the circus from 1977.
And yet, it kind of was. Because once the circus proper started, it had all of the elements of circuses of yore: elephants, tigers, trapeze artists, springboard jumpers, hoops of fire and more.
The theatricality was quite spectacular both old school (the ringmaster and clowns) and new school (remote controlled (I guess) platforms and floating screens to project pictures). And, yes it was all about Dragons–the ringmaster sang a long over the top song about being a dragon (I think–the sound was really quite poor). And they explained the four qualities of being a dragon (or maybe the four qualities you needed for the dragon to come out? That’s what seemed to happen anyhow). Each of the four qualities (Courage, Strength, Wisdom, Heart) was represented by a color and, tenuously, by the performers in a certain section.
And I cannot keep straight who exemplified which quality so, as my memory allows, here’s what we saw.
After the big opening–where I believe everyone comes out on the floor at once, they got into some of the individual acts. The first was a horse show in which daredevil riders did all manner of tricks–climbing on and off, jumping onto moving horses, etc. It was fast-paced and quite exciting.
After all of the opening business and horses, I settled in for a typical circus. And then RB&B&B pulled out its first amazing thing–motorcycles on highwires with women hanging below them doing spins and hanging upside down. From a motorcycle, mind you. And the cycle came out right in front of us. It was utterly thrilling.
The most fascinating act was the hair hangers–women who hang from their hair and do flips and spins and all manner of things–while being lifted by their hair! It was the most discussed act in our car ride on the way home–How do they do it? Doesn’t it hurt? How do you start practicing that? I need to know more).
There was another sequence where women were suspended in glass spheres and did a kind of dance which involved opening and closing the spheres and kind of hanging out of them. I’m well aware it was an “in the air” act so that they could change the set on the floor, but I think it was a little slow-paced. Especially for the kids.
Then there was a lengthy routine by the Kung Fu Kings and the Shaolin Troupe (whom I suspect were not monks at all). They did some interesting routines with swords, although their main bit seemed to be breaking hard objects over their heads–which is fun once or twice, but did go on a bit too long. More impressive was the jumping through rings with swords sticking out of the rings (although the Peking Acrobats have made this sort of thing old hat for us). The monks also did that crazy thing where they are able to bend stiff metal bars with their throats and necks and are able to lay down on sharp objects. It’s impressive but you can only see so much of that before it looks kind of samey. All in all, the whole routine seemed a tad too long. And then I had to try to explain the difference between Shaolin Monks and Ninjas to my son, which took a pretty long time too, and I’m still not sure he got it–time for some Jackie Chan films!
When the first act ended, it sounded to me like the Ringmaster said intermission. But the sound was so bad, Sarah didn’t think so. It had already been an hour and a half, so it could have been over–I’d have gotten my $15 worth, surely. Some people went out but a lot of people stayed. We had to go out and ask one of the concession guys if the show was over. It wasn’t. The intermission allowed us to spend money on trinkets (but no “portraits with elephants” as they were plaster animals and cost $20!). We had said no to trinkets at the Big Apple Circus, but man it’s hard to say no when there are so many gizmos that light up in so many fascinating ways–and every child around you is waving one around. Needless to say there were many tears before act two started (and not just from our kids–there were kids crying all over the place. Maybe that’s why people hate clowns so much).
Speaking of clowns, there weren’t that many clown sequences. Indeed, there was no clown car (boo). The longest clown sequence was when they pretended to do the Shaolin Monk things. It was pretty funny. I think clowns may work better in small theaters (like Aga Boom), because while these guys were funny and did clever things, nothing had a lot of impact. Especially when they were performing things on the sides of the ring while the main acts were doing their things in the center. That must be frustrating.
The second act opened with trapeze artists (which I missed because I had to buy someone a smoothie–boo!)
The second act also included the Asadullin Troupe and Troupe Scala, two troupes that do amazing stunts on the teeterboard (ie. they make people fly through the air to land on others’ shoulders). By the end, they were doing somersaults in the air while on stilts–it was amazing. My one gripe is that the two acts worked simultaneously at different ends of the ring. While most of the time they allowed the other troupe’s stunt to finish before they started their own, there was some overlap, making it hard to see both sets.
The highlight was the Torres Family. They all came out on motorcycles and proceeded to ride around inside a steel ball. During the intermission when she though the show was over, Sarah had said she was disappointed that she didn’t see people ride motorcycles in a steel ball–but maybe that was too 70s. Well, when they came out we were thrilled. They started with 4 and added more and more. Although 4 was amazing in and of itself. I don’t understand how these bikes can get so fast in such a short period that they can be parallel to the ground. (And also stop!) Amazing!
The grand finale allowed us to see the dragon come out. It was pretty exciting. Even if we weren’t following the “story” of what was going on, it was still cool to see. Especially when it breathed fire.
Some other cool things about the show: They had a live band who were great. It certainly helped during sections where things went wrong (as they will do–nothing serious, just technical glitches). And the band was really impressive–they added to the show and yet I often forgot they were there.
The most fascinating thing to me as an adult is the way the souvenir book presents the acts. They are all individual performing acts that seem to “work for” RB&B&B. Each act gets its own section of the book and each act has its own history listed. So I assume that the RB&B&B banner is a showcase for all of these acts to perform–where else would they do it?
The show was paced pretty well, although some things went on a little long (the Shaolin Monks and the floating balls).
The biggest disappoint (everyone in our family agreed) was that during the small animals act, all three rings were in use, and it was impossible to watch anything fully. Which is a real shame because each ring had something amazing going on. In the far ring, cats that jumped higher than one might expect, cats walked on tiny kitty parallel bars, cats did all kinds of cool things. In the center ring the dogs were doing wonderfully typical doggie stunts–jumping, doing conga lines knocking things over, fun for all! In the third ring, there was a llama, a couple of miniature donkeys and even a goat which climbed a ladder and walked on a hoop of some kind–I watched this one the least because I was entranced by the cats and dogs. I could have watched all of them individually for quite a while.
The other disappointment, it must be said came because of the tigers and elephants. I had been warned that PETA would be at the entrance, which they were. Okay, and fair enough, but PETA, do you really think I’m going to NOT go to the circus with my kids after I bought the tickets and paid for parking because of your signs? Oh look, kids, six people with disturbing banners don’t want us to go to this things we’ve been talking about for weeks. Right.
I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes of the circus—I’m sure there are electric shocks to get the animals to do what the performers want—of course, we have an electric fence to keep our dog safe, and we love our dog, so where does that leave us? I mean, they obviously want to keep their livelihood healthy and happy, right?
But all hand wringing aside, the tiger act was just kind of sad. The animals seemed kind of old and tired. Although when the one tiger had the tamer backed into the corner of the cage, I had to wonder just how real that was. And the elephants well, who knows if they enjoy doing circles on a small stool (it’s funny how we know/assume that dogs like doing tricks, but we assume that bigger animals don’t—I mean elephants like to paint, right? Maybe they like to sit down on stools too?) Anyhow, seeing them sitting was kind of sad, and seeing the one do a “head stand” on it’s trunk was pretty sad too. So, they may be classic circus bits, but they could go away without any loss to the show. There was a “meet the animals” section before the show, but we were too late, so we have no first hand details about the animals.
Animals aside, the show was pretty spectacular. Clear highlights involved motorcycles. And even if the other acts weren’t amazing (the Big Apple Circus gives them a very good run for its money as far as acrobats go), it was well worth the $15. As Clark said on the way out, “that was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
This way to the egress.