Members of the Caribbean Dynasty dance group perform during the UniverSoul Circus in Atlanta GA Sunday, February 10, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

UniverSoul returns to Atlanta with big changes as it turns 26

Stilt walkers from Trinidad and Tobago, towering over the crowd. Aerial acrobats from Mongolia, soaring and flipping using a teeterboard. Motorcycle daredevils from the USA, flying at high speeds.

UniverSoul Circus, which combines circus arts, stunning visuals and an eclectic mix of music (from hip-hop to Caribbean rhythms to African beats to Beyoncé), has returned to Atlanta, where it all began 26 years ago.

The traveling circus has been entertaining families across the country, but its roots are here. It was founded in 1993 by Baltimore native and Atlanta resident Cedric Walker, a concert promoter who wanted to showcase multicultural talent.

RingMasters Zeke (L) and Lucky entertain the crowd during the UniverSoul Circus in Atlanta GA Sunday, February 10, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer

The circus is filled with talent from around the globe from Caribbean dancers to a trampoline act featuring performers from Cuba and Ethiopia to ringmaster Daniel “Lucky” Malatsi. The South African native turned Atlanta resident dances, does acrobatics and keeps the audience pumped up. There’s also his warm, enthusiastic sidekick Zanda “Zeke” Charles, a short-statured UniverSoul mainstay. (Zeke grew up in Hartford, Conn).

Performers on stilts entertains the crowd during the UniverSoul Circus in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“This year, we set out to highlight the unity, diversity and inclusion that has been the hallmark of our show,” said Malatsi in an e-mail. “Many of our acts this year are a combination of cultures and nationalities within a single act. For example, our Caribbean Festival act now includes performers from Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad. … Our Cossack Horse act features riders from Moscow, Kazakhstan, Trinidad, Guinea and Cuba.”

The Men of Steel act entertains the crowd during the UniverSoul Circus. This is a new act this season.STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

UniverSoul Circus features multiple new acts this season, including a solo trapeze artist who performs tricks, including walking upside down inside a cupola (without a safety net), along with a jaw-dropping hand-to-hand statue act known as “The Men of Steel.”

With the iconic Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey taking its final bow a couple years ago after more than 140 years, UniverSoul finds itself as one of the last surviving circuses — and one of the largest left in the country.

UniverSoul has even expanded in recent years to new markets including National Harbor, Md.

MORE: Photos from 2018 UniverSoul Circus

An equestrian act entertains the crowd during the UniverSoul Circus in Atlanta on Sunday, February 10, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Animals continue to be part of UniverSoul’s show, but they have been de-emphasized from the live entertainment. The acts with animals include trained rescue dogs, horses and zebras.

In circus circles, UniverSoul is known for drawing a strong and receptive crowd and for presenting a show that is festive and highly interactive, with lots of audience participation.

MORE: Ringling Bros. says goodbye after 146 years

Members of the Caribbean Dynasty Dancers Limbo under a burning bar during their UniverSoul Circus performance Sunday, February 11, 2018, in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

As the show comes to a close, ringleader Lucky, clad in a shimmering blue jacket and blue sparkly shoes, asks children in the audience to stand up and take a pledge. Repeat after me, loud and clear, he says.

I am unique. I will love those who are different from me.

We may have different beliefs, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.

EVENT PREVIEW

UniverSoul Circus

Through March 3. $20-$40. Old Turner Field Gold Parking Lot, 755 Hank Aaron Drive SW, Atlanta. Also, March 6-17 at Gwinnett Place Mall, 2100 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth. 1-800-745-3000, universoulcircus.com.

No elephants or tigers at UniverSoul Circus this season 

While elephants and tigers have long been staples off the circus, they’ve been making their way out in recent years. And this year, they are not part of this UniverSoul’s shows in Atlanta. Circus representatives would not comment on whether this is a long-term decision.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey took its final bow about two years ago after decades of litigation, protest and mounting scrutiny from animal rights activists. There’s also been shifting public opinion toward the captivity and use of wild animals for entertainment.

Animals continue to be part of UniverSoul’s show, but they have been de-emphasized from the live entertainment.

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