Thursday, November 20, 2008

Circus! Circus!

This has been a crazy busy week, and I find that here I am at Thursday without even mentioning the highlight of my kids' November -- the circus last weekend. I haven't been to the circus since I was a very little girl, and I think I might have been more excited than they were beforehand because I had images in my mind of what I'd been missing all these years. My memories of the circus (apart from the endless hours I spent pretending to be a bare-back rider on our toy spring horse) are of lots of very beautiful women in sparkly costumes adorned with long flowing plumes. I don't know if these women ever really existed at the circus. It would certainly seem that long peacock tails and Las Vegas showgirl plumes don't make a whole lot of sense for a trapeze artists. But those are the women in my mind: spangled costumes with fluffy feathery tails and plumes on their heads, standing on top of cantering horses.

The bare-back rider was, of course, the only act not in the particular iteration of Ringling Brothers' Circus that we saw on Saturday.

But it's hard to argue with the grandeur of a performance that has traveled cross-country with ELEVEN elephants, ten tigers ("three white and seven orange," Son will tell you), half a dozen zebras, lots of horses, two large handfuls of dogs, and countless clowns. The Ringmaster had a voice as velvety as Patrick Stewart. The stilt walkers were enormous and funny. The acrobats amazing.

There was preshow fun -- performers of all kinds working in two small rings, and all of us able to mill around and get up close. We watched clowns walk on giant balls, acrobats do incredible things with giant piles of hula hoops, and an elephant paint a picture. I was thrilled to be so close to the beautiful giants.

Son's verdict? "They're kind of smelly."

One of the most stunning acts in the show was the sway poles. These are about 40 feet tall, and performers at the top of them are quite unafraid to hang upside down, swing towards each other, and generally astonish us with their bravery and agility.

My very favorite was the tiger tamer. Although the tricks he got them to do were pretty cool, for my money, the most impressive thing he did was before the act started. The spotlight was on the tight-rope walkers while the center ring was set up for the tigers. In the darkness, they erected the steel cage (something like a giant circular wall of chain mail) that kept tigers separated from the audience. Then they wheeled out the tigers, in containers that locked to each other to form a long tiger train. Soon, the center ring was filled with ten GIANT tigers -- plump, strong, tigers sitting each on their own stool. One tiger tamer in the middle of the ring, surrounded by ten tigers in the dark. By definition, standing in the middle of the ring, he couldn't see them all at once. But they didn't move a muscle. For a good five minutes, he murmured occasionally, moved slightly towards one tiger or another, and somehow managed to keep them all in order until the lights came up.

Why do I find this so impressive?

I only have two children, and I can't keep them sitting still and quiet for five minutes together EVER. And neither one of them weighs five hundred pounds or has razor sharp claws and teeth.

Son, of course, liked the clowns best. ("And the tigers. And the guys in that giant spinning wheel thing. And the elephants. And the horses. And the funny dogs...")

And as you know, clowning is serious business. Especially when your red nose is a little too big.

May you have some serious family fun yourselves this weekend.

Cross posted from Mommy's Martini.

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