Spause: Circus brings ‘Legends’ to Philly

Beasts and daring cyclists performs under the big top.

Brianna Spause

Brianna SpauseThe Wells Fargo Center emanated an air of childish wonder on Feb. 12.

Mixed in with the smell of popcorn and peanuts, the awe oozed out the front doors – along with all of the little ones. What’s all the fuss about, you may ask? The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus was in town presenting the opening night of “Legends.”

The age of the big top is one the famed menagerie leaders left behind them long ago, but not an ounce of magic seemed to be sacrificed in the arena atmosphere.

As the lights went down over the packed venue for a prompt 7:30 p.m. start, hundreds of young faces appeared aglow from their LED spinning souvenirs in preparation for the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

“You know a legend is something magical, something larger than life. And once you see a legend, you’ll never forget it,” Ringmaster Jonathan Lee Iverson said as he emerged from the shadows. Settling spotlights revealed his glittering purple petty coat with pants and top hat to match.

Glitz and glamour seemed to be a common characteristic that ran through the outfits of the circus performers. Each intricate costume added to the essence of each act. A personal favorite, however, was the simplicity of the Clown Army. Each performer had a variation of slacks with ripped knees and big, goofy bowties.

Then in rode the “legendary” Torres family on their motorbikes for a daredevil start to the two-hour performance. At first, four of the brothers entered the spherical death trap Iversen warmly referred to as the “Globe of Steel,” and around they went. But I said daredevil, and despite my own stomach churning fear that an ill fate might meet them, one by one they piled into the globe until eight motorbikes were circling the massive structure.

And although I’m sure there is a science to their stunt, nothing could quell my teeth-clenching unease.

But the kids loved it, and the audience erupted with each turn in the show. As far as fan favorites go, the big cats took the gold. Lions, tigers and leopards surrounded British ringleader Alexander Lacey, who had no issue cozying up to the ferocious beasts. And those ferocious beasts had no issue taking a swat or two at Lacey, either.

To calm a particularly feisty animal, Lacey leaned in for a kiss on the mouth from the female lion, to which she playfully obliged.

Plenty of animals made an appearance as the “Greatest Show on Earth” went on. Towering Indian elephants marched tail-in-trunk in a line while llamas, horses and even kangaroos joined the show.

“I loved the elephants, because you don’t get to see them every day,” marketing major Megan Cunningham said. “I liked when they lined up to form a conga line at the very end.”

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a circus without acrobats.

“We summoned the mystical and the magical from where the legends live – welcome fire, welcome water, welcome wind,” Iversen said.

And with that introduction, flames erupted in the corner. The China National Acrobatic Troupe swooped in and stole the spotlight. Dressed in fiery orange jumpsuits, the men climbed and leaped from pole to pole with grace. In washed the Hair Hang Heroines, or the women of the lotus flower.

As a representation of water, these women hung and spun with fluid grace. The catch? They were suspended from the air by none other than their own ponytails. Even my hair follicles hurt as I watched their awe-inspiring performance.

Wind, the last of the elements, was brought into view by the sound of a stampede. The Riders of the Wind, as they called themselves, dressed in gladiator getup and spun and flipped over the backs of galloping horses.

Perhaps the most admirable fact about acrobats is their fearless stunts. As for someone who can barely balance on one foot, I hold a strong reverence for these athletes. It became obvious from her excitement that the little girl in front of me did as well.

“I thought the show was amazing, and I really like the acrobats because they were in the air and hanging upside down, and they’re all really pretty,” 9-year-old Alyson told me.

“The Greatest Show On Earth” brought the elements of the earth, ferocious lions and daredevil cyclists to the table – but perhaps the real legend is the history of entertainment the show carries.

The circus dates back to 1884. Nowhere else will patrons experience the bizarre wonders that occur “under the big top.” Or will they see my pals in the Clown Army dancing to an unmistakable symphonic rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball?” All in all, it was a well-rounded night fulfilling all of my exotic circus expectations.

Brianna Spause can be reached at

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