For more than 50 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” has made an annual stop in Jacksonville.
The troupe of acrobats, aerialists, animal trainers and clowns, plus a few acts never before seen in the circus, arrived in Jacksonville Tuesday evening for a four-day, seven-performance run of “Dragons,” a new production.
Jacksonville is only the third city to see the new show, said Ringling Bros. Assistant General Manager David Bailey.
“Dragons” is the 2012 presentation of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Blue Unit,” one of three distinct productions. There also are the “Red Unit” and the “Gold Unit,” a smaller production, said Bailey.
The entire circus troupe of 142 performers, technical specialists and merchandisers, travels around the country on its own milelong train. Also on board is a menagerie of more than 50 elephants, horses, goats, donkeys, lions and tigers.
There’s also a nursery, a school and a rolling restaurant that’s open 24 hours a day when the circus is traveling.
Bailey said that creates a family atmosphere among the cast and crew.
“We’re basically a traveling city. You become a family when you’re living within two inches of each other for two years,” he said.
The theme for the show is taken from the Chinese “Year of the Dragon.” Bailey said that allowed show designers to add some performers that have never before been seen in the circus.
Bailey said some of this year’s highlights are the Shaolin Warriors, who perform Kung Fu martial arts dating back to China in the 5th century.
The Hair Hang Heroines are suspended 35 feet in the air by their hair while they juggle and flip.
This season’s “Boss Clown” is Sandor Eke, who performed with circuses in Europe and Scandinavia before joining Ringling Bros. He’s in charge of the 11-member “Clown Alley.”
Also performing this year are the Flying Caceres, who perform on a double trapeze designed specifically for Ringling Bros. and a double motorcycle high wire.
“You name it, we’ve got it this year,” Bailey said.
Bailey said the show is built around the virtues of heart, courage, wisdom and strength. At the end of the two-hour show, the four principals come together to summon the mythical dragon, whose appearance in the arena is the grand finale of the production.
“You’ve got to see it to believe it,” said Bailey.
“Dragons” opens tonight at Veterans Memorial Arena and runs through Sunday.
For show times and ticket information, visit jaxevents.com.