Ringling's 'Legends' opens in Tampa

The latest Greatest Show premieres at the Forum Jan. 1

mclear@bradenton.comDecember 26, 2013 

The new edition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus features all the kinds of acts you expect to see. The clowns, the daredevils and the acrobats are still part of "The Greatest Show on Earth."

But there are also some surprises, including a unicorn, a Pegasus and a woolly mammoth.

How did the circus manage to find two creatures that have previously existed only in mythology, plus one that's been extinct for thousands of years?

"You're trying to ruin the magic," said Nicole Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, when someone asks.

The newest show from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is titled "Legends." It has its world premiere in Tampa Jan. 1 and then heads out around North American for a two-year tour.

There's a reason Feld, whose Palmetto-based company owns the circus, wants to be coy about the reality behind those unusual creatures. "Legends," she said, is all about letting children have a magical experience, and letting grown-ups rediscover the magic of the circus.

"Legends" also includes more traditional circus animals. Alexander Lacey is returning to the circus with the lions and tigers his family has been raising for generations. He performs with animals he has raised since birth, and he says he considers them his pets.

"Getting these animals to perform is mostly a matter of finding out what they want to do," he said.

He might have a tiger who's content standing perfectly still on a small platform, and another who prefers to run and jump through hoops, and he designs the act around them.

"And if one of them doesn't want to perform that day, then we don't make him perform," he said. "We just do without him for that show."

Audience members will get a chance to see some record-setting performances, including a high jump from one of the circus acrobats.

"They've done it in rehearsal," said director Rye Mullis. "I saw them do it one time. I jut happened to be walking by. It's impressive."

(The people from the Guinness Book of World Records know about the attempt and may come to check it out, circus officials said.)

Other acts include the Cossack Riders, who perform on horseback, aerialist Alex Petrov, and the Torres Family, motorcyclists who perform inside a 16-foot sphere.

Before every show are free events for tickets-holders. One is called the Animal Open House. It allows families to get a close-up experience with the circus animals.

The other is an All-Access Pre-Show that allows the audience a chance to talk to performers, learn some circus tricks and juggle with clowns.

Most young people enjoy the meeting the animals, but some are a little nervous about the clowns. A young Ringling clown named Matt says the pre-show is the perfect cure.

"Sure, we meet some kids who are afraid of clowns," he said. "But you'd be surprised how fast they get over that fear once they see us in person."

Details: Jan. 1-5, Tampa Bay Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. Show times: 7:30 Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m., 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $23.50-$79.75. Information: 813-301-2500, www.tampabaytimesforum.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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