Without elephants, ‘Circus Xtreme’ plays up tigers, more ‘action sports’

Ryan Henning’s official Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey biography concludes with this paragraph:

“Asked where he’d like to be in 10 years, Ryan doesn’t miss a beat. He says, ‘I would like to stay with the elephants the rest of my life.’ ”

So much for advance planning.

Henning’s still with the circus — but the elephants aren’t.

In May, after 145 years as the living symbol of the self-proclaimed “Greatest Show on Earth,” the circus’ pachyderm performers took their final bows in the center ring. They’re now at the Ringing Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.

But plenty of other four-legged creatures — tigers and camels and dogs, oh my! — will share the spotlight with human performers when “Circus Xtreme” opens a seven-performance run Thursday at Thomas & Mack Center.

The traveling menagerie — almost 50 animals overall — includes 18 poodles, 17 Bengal tigers and two-humped Bactrian camels, according to Henning, the circus’ assistant animal superintendent.

Henning won’t be onstage with them, however.

When the elephants left, his performing days ended; he now spends his time backstage.

“It was bittersweet,” Henning acknowledges during a telephone interview from a “Circus Xtreme” tour stop. “After 145 years, no more elephants in the ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’ ”

 

Ringling Bros. officials initially planned to phase out the elephants in 2018, in response to ordinances enacted by local governments prohibiting the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers.

“A lot of legislation has been about the elephants,” says executive vice president Alana Feld of Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (The company’s other touring shows range from “Disney on Ice” to “Monster Jam.”)

“As a family, we decided — in the best interests of the family and the business — to retire our elephants,” Feld explains.

And while “a lot of people do miss the elephants,” Feld adds, “Ringling Bros. has never just been about one thing.”

The “Circus Xtreme” edition features “a lot of big changes” beyond the elephants’ collective absence, boasting “a lot more of the action sports” that add “an exciting element” to the production, she says.

Her favorite: the “freestyle display” finale, incorporating parkour acrobatics, BMX bikers and a trampoline wall.

“To be for the families of today, if we need to shorten the show, or shorten the acts, or put in a storyline, we’re going to do all these things,” Feld says. “Going back, when I was a child, acts were 12, 14, 15 minutes long. And you got (to see) a lot of incredible feats. But if you can put the best of the best in seven minutes, you get more — and better pacing.”

Feld has “grown up around Ringling Bros. my entire life,” and circus officials face the same challenge year after year: “How do we make the show different?”

One way: behind-the-scenes access for ticket-holders.

An hour before showtime, “we have our all-access preshow,” Feld notes — an “extremely interactive” hour where kids of all ages can “see the animals and meet the performers,” try on costumes, explore Clown Alley and learn such circus skills as juggling.

“The parents are so happy,” she says, because they realize, ” ‘I don’t have to sit in my seat and wait’ ” with impatiently squirming offspring.

Arrive 90 minutes early, Henning adds, and you can experience the circus’ animal open house, where “all the cats are socializing and playing and having a good time with one another.”

Like Feld, Henning has been involved with the circus all his life and says “I’m literally living a childhood dream.”

A native of Baraboo, Wis. — where the five Ringling Brothers founded their circus in 1884 — Henning started volunteering at Baraboo’s Circus World Museum at age 10, learning about circus history, working with animals and juggling. (His grandfather founded the museum’s library and research center and his uncle was the museum’s executive director for 18 years.)

Henning began his circus career in the Big Apple Circus, working with camels. After a year, he joined Ringling Bros.

“The camels went home — and I stayed with the elephants,” he notes.

A dozen years later, Henning’s back with the camels — and missing the elephants he helped get settled at Ringling’s 200-acre conservation center, where scientists are conducting cancer research, hoping to discover why cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans.

“They’re happy, they’re relaxing, they’re enjoying the Florida life,” Henning says of the elephants he plans to visit during his time off. “They’re still part of the circus family.”

Feld acknowledges that, when it comes to the circus’ animal performers, “we have a lot of critics out there” who are “not going to like what we do, no matter what we do.” (In 2014, after a 14-year legal battle, Feld entertainment won more than $25 million in settlements from several animal rights groups over allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.)

For Henning, such criticism “does get frustrating … hearing the extremists act as though they know best on how to care for the animals,” he says. “We are the experts, at the end of the day.”

Little wonder, then, that “I don’t like to think about a circus without animals.”

And for now, he doesn’t have to.

Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
New Brunch Spot The Stove Makes Unicorn Hot Chocolate And Bananas Foster Pancakes
New Brunch Spot The Stove Makes Unicorn Hot Chocolate And Bananas Foster Pancakes. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Octopus On The Las Vegas Strip Predicted The Winner Of The World Cup
The Octopus On The Las Vegas Strip Predicted The Winner Of The World Cup. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
TLC by the Numbers
Watch Ruthless! at Las Vegas Little Theatre
The musical Ruthless! will be playing at Las Vegas Little Theatre from July 13-29. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
How to feel like a kid again in Las Vegas
How to feel like a kid again in Las Vegas
People Lined Up For Over 5 Hours For Build-a-bear's "Pay Your Age" Promotion At Galleria Mall
People Lined Up For Over 5 Hours For Build-a-bear's "Pay Your Age" Promotion At Galleria Mall. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cadaver art and sword swallowing at The Dark Arts Market
Curator Erin Emrie talks about her inspiration for The Dark Arts Market at Cornish Pasty Co. in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas
Over 40,000 People Attend The 4th Of July Parade In Summerlin In Las Vegas. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Tourists and locals enjoy Independence Day fireworks at Caesars Palace
Hundreds of tourists and locals gaze at the Independence Day fireworks show at Caesars Palace on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
5 must-see bands at Warped Tour 2018
Five must-see bands at Warped Tour 2018
This Banana Split In Las Vegas Is Made With Fire And Liquid Nitrogen Right At Your Table.
This Banana Split In Las Vegas Is Made With Fire And Liquid Nitrogen Right At Your Table. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pixar Pier At Disneyland Is Open With New Food And A New Roller Coaster
Pixar Pier At Disneyland Is Open With New Food And A New Roller Coaster (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Here's What It's Like To Ride The New Incredicoaster At Disneyland
Here's What It's Like To Ride The New Incredicoaster At Disneyland (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
"Pawn Stars" fans visit Richard Harrison's memorial at Gold & Silver Pawn
"Pawn Stars" fans from around the world visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas following the passing of Richard "Old Man" Harrison on Monday, June 25, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Get a sneak peek at Palace Station's newest renovations
Station Casinos spokesperson Lori Nelson gives a first look at what Palace Station's $192 million renovation will bring. Some areas will begin opening to the public next week according to Nelson. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
You Can Only Get The 11-pound 8-person Burger In Las Vegas
You Can Only Get The 11-pound 8-person Burger In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul McCartney is worth over $1 billion
Sir Paul McCartney is one of the most celebrated and accomplished musicians in history. He just turned 76 on June 18. McCartney grew to international fame with the Beatles and went on to become a wildly successful solo musician. Paul McCartney’s net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth. In 2017, McCartney landed the No. 13 spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid musicians, earning $54 million for the year. On Thursday, June 20, McCartney will release a double A-side single featuring two new songs, "I Don't Know" and "Come On to Me." McCartney has yet to announce a title of his new album or when it will be released. Th album is expected to be released before he headlines the Austin City Limits Music fest in October.
Bellagio's New Conservatory Brings Italian Summer To Las Vegas
Bellagio's New Conservatory Brings Italian Summer To Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kari Curletto of Las Vegas put over 500 hours into making her toilet paper wedding dress. (Courtesy Kari Curletto)
Kari Curletto of Las Vegas put over 500 hours into making her toilet paper wedding dress. (Courtesy Kari Curletto)
The Real Crepe In Las Vegas Serves Authentic Crepes In The Style Of Brittany, France
The Real Crepe In Las Vegas Serves Authentic Crepes In The Style Of Brittany, France. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
New Marilyn Musical Brings Screen Icons Life To Strip
Paris Las Vegas hosts musical bio featuring new, old tunes. (Carol Cling Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas' hottest concerts of the summer
Vegas' hottest concerts of the summer
We Taste-tested The Best Doughnut Shops In Las Vegas
We Taste-tested The Best Doughnut Shops In Las Vegas. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
5 must-see bands at Punk Rock Bowling 2018
5 must-see bands at Punk Rock Bowling 2018
Gabi Coffee & Bakery Is Like A Korean Speakeasy From The 1920s
Gabi Coffee & Bakery Is Like A Korean Speakeasy From The 1920s (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Five must-see acts at the Electric Daisy Carnival 2018
Five must-see acts at the Electric Daisy Carnival 2018
The "13 Reasons Why" mustang cruises down the Las Vegas Strip (Courtesy Netflix)
4 fun and fascinating museums in Las Vegas
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like