August 14, 2009
Under the big top, normal cares are forgotten
It's a different world, under the big top. Your normal cares are forgotten and -- regardless of your age -- you are transported into a world of sequins, pretty girls, fearless and muscled aerialists, colorful clowns and kitsch.
The circus has changed since you were a child. There are no lions or tigers, for example. And I've already whined about the elephants sitting out the erection of the tent itself. There's also just one ring, whereas in the old days circuses sometimes had five with performers carrying on simultaneously. If not five, certainly three. In truth, you missed a lot in those days.
Well, those multiple stages have given way -- thanks to the economy, and also a shortage of fields big enough for a really big top -- to one ring. But let me say this: Carson and Barnes fills that ring with wholesome excitement and spectacle. For two full hours, children and adults alike could do nothing but oooh and ahhhh -- or Booo! at the Master of Ceremonies in support of the clowns. The horses and ponies performed flawlessly, the aerialists missed just one catch -- only one! The contortionist pulled himself completely through a tennis racquet. The three hula hoop dancers started with just one hoop, and finished up twirling more than 20 simultaneously -- each.
From the seats, you probably couldn't tell who was who. Carson and Barnes travels, for eight months of the year, with about 120 people, but 20-some are the children of performers. Some of the kids have small parts in the performance -- the youngest, a five-year-old girl, just marches in the parade in a frilly costume. Others take performance lessons, along with their regular schoolwork overseen by a full-time teacher. That leaves 100 adults -- perhaps 40 from Mexico, most of the other performers from South America -- many of whom also set up and take down the big tent, work the midway and perform. An aerialist, for example, has one role on the Wheel of Destiny, another on the trapeze and yet another as the high-wire motorcyclist. Different costumes, and the speed of the show, and you'd never know it was the same performer.
Not that it matters. The details are subsumed by the overall spectacle. How'd they do that? is the operative question, not Who is that? Not that you have much time to question. One act is quickly followed by another; there are no commercial breaks during the circus, unless you count a few minutes to sell peanuts or coloring books, and a 15-minute intermission for the kids to ride an elephant or pony, or get their face painted. Funny thing: With all those youngsters present, I didn't hear a single kid cry or misbehave. Circuses are like that.
Performances continue Saturday at Pershing Park, at 1:30, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Be sure to go here to download free admission tickets.