Cole Bros. Circus back in town, with its animals in tow

Posted: May 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

A young girl sits near Baby Hugo, a 2-year-old elephant that is one of the special animals traveling with Cole Bros. Circus this year.

CLEAR BROOK — The animals are back.

Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars is returning to the area with elephants and tigers for performances Friday through Sunday at the Frederick County Fairgrounds.

Last year, when the circus brought its big top to its longtime location at Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester for the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, it was not allowed to have animals. That followed a decision by mall owner Simon Properties that it would no longer allow circus-type performances by domestic or exotic animals on any of its properties.

While the circus isn’t an official event for this year’s Apple Blossom — which runs through Sunday — its new location at the fairgrounds on Martinsburg Pike (U.S. 11) does allow animals.

Seven performances are scheduled: 4:30 and 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. and 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Chuck Werner, senior marketing director for Cole Bros., said the public is invited to see the raising of the big top from 7 to 9 a.m. Friday.

With a tent that’s 50 feet tall and the length of a football field, Werner said watching the circus’ home rise is as exciting as the acts that go on inside it.

Clowns will be on hand, Werner said, and some of the performers will visit with the crowd.

He added that some of the performers will participate in Saturday’s Grand Feature Parade in downtown Winchester, though the animals will not.

Baby Hugo, a 2-year-old elephant, is one of the special animals traveling with the circus this year.

“He traveled with us last year, but he didn’t perform,” Werner said.

His partner in the spotlight is a 7-year-old elephant named Haley.

Hugo can sit down, lie down, and kick a ball.

“Animals only do things that animals can do,” Werner said.

Six white tigers and a gold tiger also are slated to perform in the circus.

Princess Vicenta, who works with the rare white tigers bred by her father in Florida, told Werner that she doesn’t “train” the cats to do things. She simply “enhances” their natural maneuvers and then teaches them to respond to a particular command with a particular movement.

Vicenta’s grandfather handled elephants and trained lions, and her mother, aunts and uncles were all associated with animal acts.

Circus-goers will also experience a new canine act from the Argentinian Fassio Family. There are large dogs, such as Afghan hounds, Saint Bernards and borzois, but the star of the troupe is a tiny Chihuahua.

Several Chihuahuas will share the spotlight so none of them have to work too hard on days with multiple performances, Werner said.

Kellan Bermudez, however, has to do all his own stunts as the human cannonball.

He’s a member of the Bermudez Troupe, a clowning family, but he’s moving up in the circus world, very literally.

So what does it take to be a human cannonball?

“You have to be the right caliber,” Werner joked.

The job description does call for being the right size and height, in addition to being a good acrobat. That’s because Bermudez comes out of the cannon at 55 to 60 mph.

As Bermudez flies through the air, he rotates his body to hit the net in the right position to avoid injury.

Unlike computer-assisted stunts in the movies or on TV, the circus is “real people, doing real things,” Werner said.

One of the aerial artists hangs from a wire by her hair, he said.

And the audience is right there.

“The farthest seat is not more than 50 feet from the ring,” Werner said. “Every seat is a good seat.”

The acts change annually, Werner added.

“It’s pretty much completely different every year.”

Cole Bros. has been coming to Winchester for more than 30 years, he added.

The ticket wagon at the circus opens at 10 a.m. each day, but “good seats are available as late as showtime,” Werner said. Advance tickets are available at tickets.com or by calling 888-332-5200. They also may be purchased online at GoToTheCircus.com. Advance tickets start at $16 for adult general admission. Reserved seats are available for an additional $4 and VIP seats for an additional $7. Free tickets for children 12 and younger are available at GoToTheCircus.com.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com