Tour Review: DRAGONS (Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus)

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by Stacy Trevenon on August 15, 2012

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area,Tours


In order to fully enjoy the opening of the 142nd edition of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, I had to take a step back into yesteryear. It’s a pretty big step—but as soon as I allowed myself to tap into that childlike wonder that I had long stored away, this circus spectacle took me all the way back, allowing a refreshing escape from the burdens of, well, adulthood.

And who better to do this with than Ringling Brothers, a name that has become all but synonymous with this sort of cotton candy escapism?

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema review of Ringling's DRAGONS Tour

As soon as the exceptionally dapper ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson, kicked the night off with a ringing rendition of the national anthem, the audience was thrown headlong into a sea of sparkling pageantry, breathtaking feats performed with astonishing expertise, slapstick fun, and, of course, beautiful animals. Iverson and his sidekick Paolo dos Santos (smaller than Iverson in size, though certainly not in skill) set a gracious, warm, and fantastical tone for the night from start to finish. The duo also frequently touched upon the thematic core of this particular circus, the “Spirit of the Dragon,” symbolizing courage, strength, wisdom, and heart—this spirit was made quite literally incarnate, bringing the production to a satisfying conclusion.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema review of Ringling's DRAGONS TourOf course, the circus stood well without this motif; I was quite content sipping my Pepsi while gazing and gaping at the remarkable, almost inhuman acrobatic stunts. I hardly looked for a deeper message while Shaolin masters reclined on mattresses made of spears, high flying aerial artists nonchalantly soared overhead, and ‘Dragon riders’ hummed around the interior of an uncomfortably small metallic globe atop motorcycles. During these death-defying acts, there was an immense tension that filled the air, broken only by a group of hilariously corny clowns.

One of the neatest things to watch in this new edition of Barnum & Bailey’s is the highly positive rapport between the animals and their handlers. Circuses have gotten a bad rap in the past for animal mistreatment, but Barnum & Bailey’s seems to live up to the commitment to animal conservation and education outlined in the program. But they go beyond an effort to treat all animals fairly—this circus seemed to have a particular emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism, presenting a troupe of performers from all different backgrounds and highlighting the influence of these various contexts.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema review of Ringling's DRAGONS Tour

This renowned circus certainly lived up to its monumental reputation. Perhaps the only real flaw here was that there were so many incredible acts at once that I couldn’t possibly take them all in. This was particularly distracting when there were three rings of trained animals performing simultaneously. Still, the whole production was handled masterfully, like a precisely-timed ballet, a collaborative effort of the performers and those unseen stagehands. By the end of the night, I was whisked away by my own childhood fantasies of wanting to join the circus myself—I just wish my own job were half as exciting!

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema review of Ringling's DRAGONS Tourphotos courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus
HP Pavilion in San Jose
ends on August 19, 2012
for tickets, call 800.745.3000 or visit Ticketmaster

national tour continues through April 21, 2013
for more information, visit Ringling

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