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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey

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Ringling Brox. and Barnum & Bailey, at Allstate Arena. Bello Nock, the Swiss-born clown who headlines this year's edition of the circus, is billed as a "comic daredevil." At the top of the show he bungee jumps from the rafters of the arena and later walks the high wire. But the most impressive thing about him is how little he acts like the top draw.

When veteran clown David Larible used to head the bill, he did his shtick and disappeared backstage. Bello spends most of the show onstage, popping into other people's acts, getting a quick laugh, smoothing transitions between acts. Even when he starts out alone he soon brings others into his routine--one solo turn eventually involves most of the audience.

He may well be the reason the two-hour show seems tighter, more focused, and better paced than in years past. Before one act is finished, another is ready to begin. The acts also seem shorter and more powerful, especially the aerial spectacle of the hyperkinetic Sky Surfers. A few acts blip by a little too quickly, as if the ringmaster were fast-forwarding them in hopes we won't notice that the costumes aren't as flashy or beautiful as they once were. Still, most of the show unfolds at a pace that allows adults, with their famously short attention spans, to be as amused as their children.

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