“Now she will attempt the triple somersault, a feat” —the ringmaster paused—“only accomplished by three flyers in the 130-year history of the Ringling Brothers circus!”
The expectant crowd cheered loudly at first, but quickly quieted down as they began fidgeting in their seats. The flyer from the acrobatic troupe The Flying Caceres raised her arms and gripped onto the horizontal bar. She was ready.
As the catcher swung farther and farther, the flyer’s breathing quickened until she finally kicked off of the structure and began soaring in midair. For a moment, the crowd was silent as their eyes focused on the flyer’s perfect form as she flipped once, twice, three times. When she reached out to grab the catcher’s hands, the audience raised a collective gasp, as they watched her plummet on to the net below. As she recovered from her fall, she stood, raised her arms up and smiled before she decided to go for round two.
At the HP Pavilion in San Jose, “Dragons,” a show produced by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, began its course. For the next two and a half hours, audience members were treated to performances from ferocious lions, daredevil motorcyclists and, of course, awe-inspiring flyers.
“Dragons” had only a few flaws—among them its inability to move the show at a consistent pace. While some acts needed ample time to set up, the breaks left the audience cold for far too long. At other times, it seemed as if there were too many acts crammed onto one stage. For instance, at one cramped moment, three separate performances were forced into one area, with dogs, miniature ponies and cats displayed at the same time.
However, the pacing did not distract from the overall feel, and the show’s ability to showcase a wide variety of acts more than made up for its inconsistent speed.
The show excelled in evoking emotion from audience members. Too often in today’s world, we go to modern circus shows like Cirque du Soleil expecting perfect synchronicity, execution and cohesiveness from all the acts.
“Dragons” isn’t about any of these factors. It evokes the energy from circuses of the past, from the silliness of classic slapstick comedy to the suspense of the flyer’s acrobatics. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. If classic circus shows are what the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has done and continues to do best, then why change?
The flyer raises her arms once more now, beckoning the bar toward her outstretched palms. The catcher swings, the flyer leaps, time stops. One, two and now three flips. She reaches out, barely gripping the catcher’s arms, but it’s not enough. She falls once more to the net below.
As she gets up, she still manages a smile to the audience and even blows a kiss to the roaring applause. Although she knows that her finish was far from perfect, her performance was flawless.