Ringling ringmaster talks up acts that help ‘Dragons’ take wing

Circus preview

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey presents “Dragons”

Wednesday through Feb. 18 at Philips Arena and Feb. 21 to March 3 at Gwinnett Arena. Philips: $14-$130. Gwinnett: $25-$130. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com/rbbbatl.

The world observed Chinese New Year on Sunday, ushering in the year of the snake. But Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus still is rigorously touring behind a show celebrating last year’s zodiac animal.

“Dragons” opens at Philips Arena on Wednesday for a run through Feb. 18, before heading to Gwinnett Arena for shows Feb. 21 to March 3.

Nothing against the new year’s star reptiles, but Johnathan Lee Iverson, who has served as ringmaster 0f the 142nd edition of the “Greatest Show on Earth” for more than a year, believes in the mythic power of dragons. Or maybe it’s just their power to entertain “children of all ages,” as he bellows at the show’s introduction.

“We’re celebrating the year of the dragon by bringing together top-tier artists from all over the world, and they’re all symbolizing attributes of the dragon,” Iverson explained. “We have courage, strength, wisdom and heart.”

As ringmaster, the big-voiced and extra-tall (6-foot-3) Iverson is cast as a skeptic who doesn’t believe in dragons.

But his 4-foot-tall Brazilian sidekick Paulo dos Santos is not only a believer, he thinks he keeps glimpsing a dragon throughout the show. A one-time capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) champ whom Iverson refers to as “a walking muscle,” dos Santos tries to exude the four attributes, believing that will make a dragon finally appear.

So, is he successful?

“You’ll have to come to the show and find out,” Iverson teased. (But if you’ve seen the ads, you know it’s a safe bet.)

Asked to detail favorite “Dragons” acts, the ringmaster demurred. “I leave this to the audience, because I’m always surprised by what they like,” he said, adding with a P.T. Barnum-like flourish, “It’s a buffet for the imagination.”

But Iverson relented, previewing a half-dozen highlights …

  • The 18-member Shaolin Troupe of Chinese kung fu masters are "like living, breathing action heroes," Iverson said. They break wooden and metal poles in one precise strike, get lifted 7 feet into the air on the points of spears and balance on top of spinning tridents.
  • The Riders of the Wind are a 12-member horse-riding act from Russia directed by husband and wife Kanat and Tatiana Tchalabaev. The horses circle a 46-foot-diameter ring at speeds of more than 25 mph with their riders "doing all sorts of acrobatic feats and dances on their backs," the ringmaster said. "Really dynamic."
  • The Medeiros Troupe's "double hair-hang" trick features Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves suspended by their tresses high above the arena floor as they spin, twirl and juggle. "These ladies literally have the strongest hair in the world," Iverson said. "I don't know why shampoo companies haven't called them yet."
  • Alexander Lacey, a lion and tiger trainer from Britain making his U.S. debut, is "really wowing people," Iverson said. Lacey's "big cats" are "beautiful and feisty, fun and humorous."
  • The Torres Family of synchronized motorcycle riders from Paraguay, familiar from many prior Ringling visits, raise the risk of life and limb by jamming eight crisscrossing bikes into their 16-foot globe of steel this year.
  • Klose's Performing K9's — including mixed breeds, standard poodles, fox terriers, great Danes and Australian shepherds that do athletic jumping and tricks — "have their own following," Iverson boasted.   All are rescued from shelters except for the poodles.