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January 15, 2017

Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Presents Circus XTREME - The End of an Era


This was originally intended to be just another event review. I was fully prepared to share my thoughts on this year's performance by the famed Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus - which skits made me squeal with delight or shudder with anxiousness, and maybe even an element or two that seemed a little "off" or lacking. While I was working on sorting out my thoughts, big news broke that genuinely demands a bit of a shift in tone from my original planned perspective. Feld Entertainment has announced that it is ending the Ringling Bros circus after 146 years.



It's all a bit surreal, isn't it? Like waking up to find out that McDonald's is going out of business, or Walt Disney World is sealing its gates... in fact, possibly even more dramatic, because neither of these companies have existed as long as Ringling... the realization that a generational institution will cease to exist is certainly a tremendous shock. It stands to mention that some people are celebrating this announcement as a win for animals. However, the truth of the matter is that Ringling is THE circus that held exceptionally high standards for animal care and humane regulation. While this particular show will not carry on, many other lesser-known circuses with lower standards will continue. No matter which side of the animal rights fence you are on, this can't intelligently be seen as a victory. On a personal level, many fans are reeling in a deeply nostalgic loss. Speaking for myself, the Ringling Bros. circus is the one event that my family has enjoyed together every year, for as long as I can remember. At this time, I'm simply grateful that my children had the privilege to grow up with these memories as well.


Just two days prior to the announcement, Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Presents Circus Xtreme celebrated its first Orlando performance of 2017 at Amway Center to begin a five-day visit. In what became its final stint in The City Beautiful, the event was a spectacle to behold. Among the notable aspects of Circus Xtreme, audiences were dazzled by the debut of the company's very first female ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson.

Orlandoans may recognize Kristen from her roles in Treasure Tavern and Cirque Magique - both at Pirate's Town Dinner Theater off International Drive. The consummate performer, Kristen demonstrated her larger-than-life skills as a rousing entertainer and a stellar vocalist in her first appearance with Ringling. She was completely at ease and undoubtedly in her element as she introduced the various acts with every bit as much pomp and circumstance as the nearly 40 men who preceded her. Kristen is a natural - in any performance setting.
Kristen Michelle Wilson at Circue Magique (l) and Treasure Tavern (r)
 Another glaringly obvious difference in Circus Xtreme was the absence of the Ringling elephants. The elephants officially performed their last show on May 1, 2016 in Rhode Island before being retired to the 200-acre Ringling Bros Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City. While this left a striking gap in a stereotypical circus performance, audiences still enjoyed the zany antics of trained poodles, the grace and majesty of the menagerie of tigers, and the fanciful prancing of a positively gorgeous caravan of camels. 










The focus of the evening was aimed at the daringly impressive skills of the diverse human acrobats of the Ringling troupe. On the floor and in the air - on foot, on wheels, and dangling from wires, the limber performers displayed a host of skills and stunning endurance in individual and group arrangements. Not the least of which was the human cannonball - an act I haven't witnessed at a circus in many years.




Between the demonstrations of strength, might, flexibility and agility, throngs of clowns streamed in and out of the spotlight, breaking up the oohs and aahs of suspense with lighthearted hilarity.



All in all, it was a fast-paced arrangement of widely varied entertainment that covered an impressive spectrum of giggle- and gasp-worthy moments. I will say that it was a very different feel for a "circus". There was more music - more ensemble, choreographed performance. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing (especially with Kristen being the primary voice), but it was different. It was very busy, and the show followed a story. It felt big for a circus, and I suppose that was a very appropriate thing, considering the fact that it will be the last Ringling Bros show. Circus Xtreme concludes its tour in Providence, RI on May 7, 2017. Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Presents Out of This World ends its run in Uniondale, NY on May 21, 2017.