Acrobats, trick riders, a lion tamer — audiences expect them at the circus.
But unicorns, a winged horse and a woolly mammoth?
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has officially taken its act to mythical proportions, this year with its new show, LEGENDS, coming to the Smoothie King Center, June 18-21.
The show will follow the story of Paulo, the Legend Seeker, as he undertakes a quest to uncover mythical and prehistoric legends.
On his journey, he’ll also discover a wide range of not-so-mythical but talented creatures, including nine Asian elephants, nine tigers, six African lions, an African leopard, 20 horses, 21 dogs and an array of pigs, goats, llamas and kangaroos.
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson is just one of the approximately 300 members of the cast and crew that make up the LEGENDS tour, which will travel to 78 cities during the show’s two-year tour.
“When we come into a city, it’s like the arrival of a small village,” he said. “We bring our own animals, our own citizenry, housing and equipment.”
The majority of the circus — including all 85 animals — travels by train, on 61 custom-built rail cars that stretch for more than a mile.
Included are 32 coaches for living, a generator car that provides all the power needed for the entire train and a traveling diner called the Pie Car that often provides performers with cuisine from their varied homelands (20 to 25 countries are represented on the tour).
For Iverson, circus living is all his family has ever known.
He and his wife, Priscilla, a former member of the circus’ Brazilian dance troupe who now serves as the show’s production manager, met through the circus, married in an arena in Chicago following a performance and are raising their two children, Mathew, 10, and Lila, 6, on the rails.
“I can’t think of any better way to raise a family. I feel so fortunate that we get to live, work and play together all the time,” he said.
The train includes its own fully staffed nursery, day care and traveling school designed to serve the many families on the tour, Iverson said.
“It’s probably the most accommodating situation I can think of for someone in show business,” he said.
For many of the show’s stars, circus life is a family affair.
Iverson’s sidekick, Paulo Dos Santos, a martial arts master and comedic performer, said he delights in sharing his performances and travels with his wife, Janaina, two sons and baby daughter.
For big cat trainer Alexander Lacey, his work is the continuation of a family legacy.
His father was a zoo and circus director, while his mother traveled around the world working with white tigers.
Lacey’s younger brother, Martin Jr., works in Germany with Circus Krone.
Dog trainer Hans Klose, of Klose’s Performing K9s, calls the circus not an occupation but a way of life. His father was an acrobat and foot juggler with Ringling Bros. in the 1950s, while his mother, a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, later rode the elephants.
Both joined together to create a dog act, which they later passed along to Klose, the youngest of their three children. Alongside his wife, Mariya, a former Russian acrobat, Klose now performs his high-energy canine act for LEGENDS, accompanied by the occasional llama and pig.
And then there is the Torres family, responsible for LEGENDS’ nail-biting “Globe of Steel” act.
Likening their work to “what pilots do in an air show,” eight members of the family ride their motorcycles on continuous loops within a 16-foot steel globe, reaching speeds of up to 65 mph.
“No matter how many times I see it,” Iverson said, “it never fails to astound me.”
All ticket holders are invited to arrive one hour before show time to enjoy the All Access Pre-Show on the arena floor. Attendees will be able to meet the performers, collect autographs and take photos and enter to win a painting created before their eyes by one of the circus elephants.