Last December, while I was in Florida around Tampa, I visited the "winter months" arena where Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Feld Entertainment prep, practice and fine-tune their upcoming shows.
In December 2011, the entire company, cast and crew were working hard on their "top secret" circus tour launching in 2012 called "Dragons."
Now, a year later, this all-new, what's described as a "once in a millennium event" celebrating The Year of the Dragon, has launched and is in Chicago for the month.
Circus performers from the farthest reaches of the earth converged on the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., starting Nov. 1 and through this Sunday, for the first stretch of the Windy City visit.
The circus then continues at Chicago's United Center, Nov. 14-25, and once again, ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson is leading this amazing fantastical celebratory tournament of circus champions under a thrilling theme that brings together mystic dragon lore with authentic circus feats.
From Shaolin Kung Fu Warriors, charging Cossack riders on horseback, magnificent Asian elephants and fierce tigers to the frenzied Globe of Steel and an array of silly clowns, the 2-1/2 hour performance doesn't disappoint.
I attended Thursday's press night performance, and even though I'd seen many of the acts a year ago during the Florida rehearsals, I was dazzled and thrilled all over again. The excitement and pageantry was even more so, since this time around, the entire display unfolded in full costumes, unlike the rehearsals.
This installment of the circus is crafted around the myths about dragons, with plenty of hype and teasing that promises a finale appearance by a fire-breathing golden dragon by the finale bows.
Throughout the course of the various acts, the audience is treated to hints that a dragon is "in the house," with brief glimpses of a wing here and an eye there.
The animal showcase not only includes elephants, lions, tigers and horses, but also inventive household pets animal acts. This collection of intelligent (and obedient) cats and dogs perform in separate rings.
This installment also includes the Ringling Bros. tradition of an "all access pre-show" available to all ticket holders. Families can participate in interactive experiences such as learning juggling and balancing skills, get performer autographs, see one of Ringling Bros. majestic Asian elephants paint a one-of-a-kind masterpiece and meet the Ringling Bros. Clowns.
Much of this year's new circus is built around The Shaolin Warriors, from China, as they execute intense and fearless Kung Fu martial arts dating back to the 5th Century.
Prior to the appearance of the glistening golden dragon, which breathes an intense blue fire flame, the concluding act of the circus is the now all too-familiar "Globe of Steel" featuring the Torres Family who promise to shatter all records by putting eight family members on specialized motorcycles speeding around the interior of the orb.
Hailing from Great Britain and appearing in the United States for the first time, Alexander Lacey is the star trainer of the big cats for this show.
Tickets start at $13, and are available through Ticketmaster and the Allstate Arena and United Center box offices or call (800) 745-3000, or visit Ringling.com. Additionally, this year, parking is FREE in all official Allstate Arena and United Center parking lots.