Designed to appeal to the next generation of circusgoers, the latest presentation by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey thinks outside the ring.
Circus XTREME comes to the Smoothie King Center Thursday through Sunday.
“There are five acts in the show that I created myself that have never been seen this way,” said the show’s director, Michael Schwandt, whose contributions include a team of bungee sky divers, BMX trick riders, aerialists, stunt performers and slack lining — similar to tightrope walking.
“It’s really like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” said Schwandt, who is no stranger to creative innovation. The director’s past work includes designing an electrical light wire costume for Katy Perry, and working with Betty White on her music video debut.
He also served for a time as guest judge and choreographer for “So You Think You Can Dance” in Europe and Vietnam and as stage director and choreographer for the Miss Universe and Miss USA TV specials on NBC from 2008 to 2012.
Schwandt says he also fondly remembers choreographing Lady Gaga in her first network TV performance.
“I met Lady Gaga through a stylist friend of mine at a time when she was still figuring out who she was,” he said. “I remember she had made these glasses out of iPod screens and was uploading this custom content she had created for them with her laptop. I fought hard for her to be on that Miss Universe show, because I knew there was something special about her. My intuition was obviously correct.”
It seems Schwandt’s intuition about reinventing the circus also has been correct.
“Circus XTREME has been tremendously well received since it opened on Jan. 1, 2015,” he says. “I’ve had people tell me it’s the best circus they’ve seen in 30 years.”
“We actually have this 9- to 12-inch inflatable floor,” Schwandt said. “It looks like a regular floor, but soon into the performance you realize that something is different — the performers are literally bouncing off the ground as they go into their leaps and tumbling.”
Of course, the X-Games-inspired acts are only part of the fun — there’s also Nitro, the human cannonball and Mongolian strongmen, as well as Bengal tigers, performing poodles and a caravan of camels.
“This is a show where you definitely don’t want to come late or leave early,” Schwandt says. “The opening is less like a circus and more like a rock concert. It really sets the tone for the show. And for the finale, all the extreme sports converge on one giant stage. It’s something that’s never been done before and I have to say, it’s pretty spectacular.”
All ticket-holders are invited to arrive an hour before the show for the “All Access Pre-Show” to meet the animals, try their hand at some circus skills and even try on costumes. An additional VIP Behind-the-Scenes Tour is also available for purchase that includes a more personal encounter with the animals and the stars of the show.
“I feel like Barnum & Bailey is experiencing an evolution,” Schwandt says. “Everything changes with time and they I think they are finding new avenues to provide that high level of entertainment. This show, I believe, is just the first step of many to come in that evolution.”