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Zulus Dance, Gators Wrestle, Baboons Bike at the Circus

July 21, 1988|CORINNE A. FLOCKEN

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. A Safari Fantasy. Ahh, the circus. The flash of a thousand sequins, the smell of popcorn and peanuts, the roar of alligators.

Yup, alligators. In its never-ending quest for the bizarre and beguiling, Ringling Bros. began its weeklong run at the Anaheim Convention Center on Tuesday with one of the strangest acts to hit the center ring. It is Tahar: the Moroccan Master, a solid brick wall of a man who gets his kicks playing chicken with alligators. The show runs daily through July 27.

"What this show does, and what the circus has always tried to do, is take the audience to another place, an exciting place," ringmaster Joe Ragona explained at intermission. "And people love it. There's all this talk about how the circus is dying. If you look in the faces of the kids here tonight, you'll see that it's alive and well, and that's so important."

In a production number as glitzy as a Vegas extravaganza, the audience meets Carmen Hall's African baboons and a tribe of Amabutho Zulu warriors presenting what is billed as a "tribal war dance." And of course, there is a bevy of gorgeous show girls and madcap clowns decked out in day-glo native costumes--since when do native women wear sparkling gold Capezios?--dancing and cavorting to an African beat.

For his act, Tahar strides into the center ring, and using what looks like a kind of hypnosis, "freezes" his seven alligators into position, pulling them out of their spell to pass his hand through their gaping jaws and even stick his head inside one critter's mouth. For a grand finale, Tahar confronts the animals in their own element, wrestling one in a tank of water as the audience looks on in horror.

During the opening-night performance, a couple of his gators apparently escaped his trance and slithered over the barrier of the ring for a better look at the audience, sending a few front-row folks scrambling.

Not to worry. This is the circus, right? These overgrown lizards aren't really dangerous . . . they're probably animated pool toys. Or maybe just heavily drugged.

But as Tahar explains in his broken English, "Reptiles have very, very tiny brain. You can't give them drugs, and you can't train them. Even lions, tigers. You give them drugs, and they cannot work. Just like people. The mental power (required for this act) comes from myself. I look in alligator's eyes. I tell them they have to go to sleep and close eyes. And they they do it."

Dozens of animals are featured in the show, including plenty of lions, tigers, bears, zebras, elephants, and even an occasional buffalo and domestic dog. Look for the Liloy Bears, Larry Allen Dean and his African lions, Geronimo the buffalo and an unorthodox gathering of performing animals featuring Jerry Wegman and his lion-tiger-leopard-panther-puma-St. Bernard combo.

There is a lot of high-wire action overhead, too, including flamenco footwork (sans net) from the Quiros family, a heart-stopping, head-first plunge by aerialist Bistra, and the Peters Brothers and their Whirling Wheel of Death.

And, as P.T. Barnum said, "Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung," so this year's edition tips its top hat to the 20th anniversary of Ringling Bros.' Clown College with time-honored gags, as well as some brand new acts.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus continues through July 27 at Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim. Reserved seating is $8.50 and $11 for adults; children ages 2 through 12 receive a $2 discount (except at selected performances).

Show times are: 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today and next Monday through Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Information: (714) 999-8900.

The show moves to the Los Angeles Sports Arena July 29 through Aug. 9.

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