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Barnum’s One-Ring Circus on Tour

December 28, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ It’s a circus, all right. But not the kind you usually expect from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

Yes, the smell of hot, buttery popcorn wafts through the tent, a man balances a ladder on his head and someone else juggles balls. Performers push the limits of human agility and strength.

But this circus has only one ring. No ferocious beasts. No ``ladies-and-gentlemen-children-of-all-ages″ pronouncements. There are plush velvet seats, none farther than 50 feet from the ring. The lead clown relies on facial expressions and body language, not slapstick. And the band’s singer invites the audience to join her in the Charleston.

``Barnum’s Kaleidoscape,″ playing in New York through Sunday and then continuing on a national tour, is part of a trend toward smaller, more intimate circuses _ even from the company better known for three-ring extravaganzas.

``I’ve never been to a circus like this,″ said 59-year-old Bob McKinney of New York City, the one person who did do the Charleston when the singer asked.

``We wanted to do something ... more artistic, more of a personal flavor,″ said David Larible, a seventh-generation circus performer from Italy who is the show’s main clown host.

Among the acts, there is Picasso, a juggler from Spain who turns bowls into boomerangs; the Golden Statues, a trio of Moroccans who look like statues as they perform feats of strength; Sylvia Zerbini, a trapeze artist and horse trainer; and Guy Tell, a crossbow marksman whose final act is so dangerous it’s amazing he didn’t die putting it together.

Kaleidoscape was the brainchild of Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. That bigger circus used to do tent shows, but stopped in 1956, moving into larger venues.

Feld decided the time was right for Barnum to have a tent show again, and Kaleidoscape opened in April 1999.

``The thing that seems to be happening is that Americans are beginning to embrace the intimacy of the one-ring circus rather than the spectacle of the three-ring,″ said Ernest Albrecht, editor of Spectacle Magazine for circus enthusiasts, and a book, ``The New American Circus.″

He said the success of Cirque du Soleil, the French-Canadian circus that has won raves for its theatrical, no-animal performances since the mid-1980s, led the way for one-ring American circuses. Albrecht pointed to Big Apple Circus, UniverSoul, and Circus Flora as other examples of one-ring shows that are doing well.

That doesn’t mean the demise of the three-ring circus, he said; one-rings just offer a different experience.

``You can see better,″ said New Yorker Marina Heintze, 14, at the show with her mom and a friend.

Patrons can enter a pre-show tent up to an hour before the program starts and meet the performers. Afterward, performers are in the reception tent again, signing autographs.

At the big circuses, ``you get lost, it’s much too busy,″ said Janet Robilotti of New York, who attended a recent performance with her husband and three grown children. ``This kind of reminds me of a very small town.″


On the Net: Kaleidoscape: http://www.barnumsk.com.

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