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The UniverSoul Circus redefines big-top entertainment

Suffering from post-big-top withdrawal after last month's come-and-gone run of Circus Flora at Grand Center? Get ready for another circus-spectacle high as the UniverSoul Circus trots into town with its "Soul in the City 2004" tour.

The Atlanta-based traveling show, now more than a decade old, holds the distinction of being the first African-American owned-and-operated circus in this country in more than 110 years. Combining the music, dance and pageantry of African, Caribbean, South American and African-American cultures, the circus' roster of thirteen multiethnic, multitalented performing acts includes: Caribbean Flava, a showgirls-on-stilts troupe from Trinidad and Tobago; the Twisted Sistas, a contortionist quartet with roots in both Mongolia and South Africa; the Willy Family, who hail from Colombia and dance the salsa on a high wire; acrobatic hip-hop dance team Lucky and Country; the Cossacks, which are "thundering horses" from Russia; and the not-at-all-scary-sounding Wheel of Death, a "giant wheel balancing act" whose members hail from Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Emceeing all of these unbelievable-sounding acts during the two-hour show is a coed pair of ringmasters. Shuckie Duckie, a standup comic in a previous life, here plays the Ricky Ricardo-like straight man to his female counterpart, Mabelle, the loopy Lucille Ball-like character. Says circus spokesman Hank Ernest: "She is like an escaped mental patient who finds her way to the circus."

Even with such highfalutin hijinks, UniverSoul still aims to be the circus that cares; the show is known for peppering its between-act patter with kid-friendly messages promoting peace, love and understanding -- so now we finally know what's so funny about all that.

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