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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Staples Center

The 'Zing Zang Zoom' tour features a Bollywood theme and plenty of visual illusions, including the disappearance of a 4-ton elephant.

July 09, 2009|Elina Shatkin

If you think you have trouble maneuvering through downtown Los Angeles traffic, imagine how difficult it was for a herd of elephants -- on Tuesday morning, no less.

Holding trunk-to-tail, 10 Asian elephants, weighing between 6,500 and 10,000 pounds each, marched three miles from the train yard in Vernon to the loading dock at Staples Center. Yes, the circus is in town, and as in past years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey scheduled its animal walk for the early hours of what should have been an inconspicuous weekday. This year, it happened to be on the same day as the massive memorial service for Michael Jackson. Led by pachyderm diva Asia, the literal circus arrived at the metaphorical one shortly after 5 a.m.

"Asia loves to perform," says elephant handler and trainer Libby Morris, 29. "She's the one that's showcased throughout the whole show. . . . In our act, she picks me up and carries me around the ring in her mouth. It doesn't hurt, but I do get slobbered on."

Even more impressive, all 4 tons of Asia disappear as part of "Zing Zang Zoom," the title of this touring version of the circus' 139th edition. Determined to feature visual illusions as a central component, the show's director, Shanda Sawyer, worked with theatrical illusionist Jim Steinmeyer to find ways of performing magic in a 360-degree environment.

"We wanted to . . . push the boundaries of what had been done magically in a circus," Sawyer says. "The show is really about giving kids and their parents a sense of the magical possibilities in their life."

The result is a Bollywood-themed, illusion-heavy show in which 24-year-old "Zingmaster" Alex Ramon uses a giant box of tricks to keep the various acts in the air and prevent pesky clowns Mr. Gravity and his Heavies from bringing down the show.

The second youngest ringmaster in circus history, Ramon especially enjoys the segment in which he brings three children from the audience into the ring and teaches them how to levitate their parents.

"It's a brand-new illusion," Ramon says. "It's never been done before, and you won't see it anywhere else."

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elina.shatkin@latimes.com

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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Where: Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A.

When: 7:30 p.m. today; noon & 7:30 p.m., Fri.; 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun.

Price: $12 to $90.

Contact: www.ringling.com

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