With the help of special effects and even an ice rink, the new Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will whisk audiences away to another galaxy.
See for yourself when the "Out of This World" circus takes over the Allstate Arena Friday, Nov. 4, through Sunday, Nov. 13, and then moves to Chicago's United Center Thursday, Nov. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 27.
"It's a brand new genre of circus for the 21st century, combining a character-driven storyline with technology -- from floor to air to ice," said Ashley Vargas, an ice skater and aerial silk performer.
"And this is the first time that Ringling has ever been on ice," Vargas said. "That ice creates a white canvas that allows light projections to transform into different planets -- the fire planet, the ice planet, the water planet and the sand planet."
The Simet Troupe opens "Out of This World," portraying astronauts about to be launched into outer space.
"They are a family from Hungary, and they are so amazing," Vargas said of the troupe. "They are walking across a metal wheel as it is moving -- it's like walking on a moving tightrope."
Traditional circus acts, including animals, clowns and trapeze artists, are still a big part of the show. Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson will oversee 100 performers from 25 countries, with artists such as the Cossack Riders and husband-and-wife animal trainers Alexander and Katie Lacey.
More than 80 animals take part, including dogs, pigs, lions, tigers and donkeys. Audience members can watch as a goat toddles on a balance beam and a kangaroo leaps over hurdles.
What they won't see are elephants. The show's Asian elephants have been retired, and they now live in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida, Vargas said.
Davis Vassallo, a fourth-generation circus artist from Italy, is one of the show's many clowns. Vassallo combines comedy with acrobatic skills, climbing 45 feet into the air atop a sway pole.
"He actually defies gravity and walks on the ceiling," Vargas said.
Vassallo even learned to ice skate for the new production.
Vargas, now in her fifth year performing with Ringling Bros., recalls her fascination with the circus as a child.
"I was mesmerized by the animals and the artistry. The thing that is amazing to me is that you really leave your everyday life when you are at the circus. Although you are sitting with your family and friends, you are in another place. A place of constant entertainment."
And Vargas stresses that no one is too "old" to enjoy the circus.
"So many people come to our show without children with them. My mom and dad still come to the circus! You see couples on dates and seniors. They are still coming to the circus. It's a show for every age, and it's always changing. It's about making lasting memories."
Laura Milbrath Stewart
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