Ringling Bros. circus uses space-age technology to keep 19th century tradition alive

The "Greatest Show on Earth" -- Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus -- heads to outer space for its latest show.


Outer space may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the circus, but that is exactly where Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey goes for its newest show, “Out of This World."

Keeping an 19th-century tradition alive in the modern age of technology, amid a myriad of entertainment options and increased pressure for eliminating animals from circus acts, is a challenge that the "Greatest Show on Earth," had to take on when reinventing itself for the show, which the circus launched at the Staples Center in Los Angeles two weeks ago.

So it's no surprise that his year has brought some of the biggest changes to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, a circus company with roots that date back 145 years to P.T. Barnum's early spectacles.

“We always like to evolve, always changing – and if you’re not changing your not growing,” said Ashley Vargas, a performer who has been with Ringling Bros. for five years, during an interview with Fox News Latino.

Aside from no longer using elephants in their acts (other trained animals like lions and tigers are still part of the show), they also integrated a floor made entirely out of ice, created a story line for the show for the show and developed an interactive app so circus-goers can take "circus selfies," play games and interact with performers.

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“Out of this World” is part ice skating spectacle, part musical and part circus spectacular. The show centers on an evil intergalactic queen who is out to capture all the most talented circus performers. It is an immersive experience that transports the audience to outer space, where the battle between good and evil is played out in front of an audience, with Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson battling the queen's evil forces to try to return the circus performers back to Earth.

“Its fun because you can seamlessly go from the ice to the air, and it adds this really fast-paced energy to the show," said Vargas.

The show starts with aerialists dressed as astronauts balancing  on a spinning wheel. Images of outer space are projected on the floor, and large planet-looking globes hang from the ceiling while space-age music plays.  

"We combine a lot of technology – this year we have a really neat projection system that lights up the floor in a way that really takes you to a whole other world," added Vargas.

The Heilongjiang Provincial Acrobatic Troupe is making its first appearance in America, showcase skilled Chinese acrobatics doing an 11-person human pyramid and hoop-diving – all performed on ice.

With its intergalactic theme, “Out of this World” is not your father's circus, but it still has some of the same pomp and circumstance that has made going to the circus a family tradition passed on from generation to generation.

“The circus brings families together,” said Katie Lacey, presenter of the animal show.

Audiences will still get to see performers that that have been part of circus acts for hundreds of years, like clowns, acrobats, trapeze artists, tightrope walkers and equestrians to name a few.

This year, Ringling Bros. is breaking with another tradition as well, for the first time in its history, women will be part of the Torres family "Globe of Steel" motorcycle stunt act, in which a group of seven performers zip around inside a steel ball at speeds of up to 65 mph.

“The audience is surprised, and they applaud when we take off our helmets when they realize we are women, they almost want to hug us," said Barbara Torres, who is part of the family of daredevils that hails from Paraguay.

Performers from the show represent more than 25 countries, including Brazil, China, the United States, Venezuela and Mexico.

“We are like a city with no zip code – we are always traveling, we are a huge family, we have our own school and our own restaurant," said Vargas.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Out of this World” will be at the Honda Center in Anaheim until Aug. 7.

Naibe Reynoso is a freelance reporter from Los Angeles, California. Follow her @naibereynoso

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