They tame snarling lions, brave high wires with no safety nets, and leap through fiery hoops.
But for the Great Moscow Circus — which starts a 24-week, six-city tour of Taiwan this October — getting here could prove a more amazing feat.
“We had 21 air and sea freight containers from the US and 30 semi-trailers from South Africa,” said organizer Michael Coad.
The circus's red-and-gold tent seats 2,200 people and covers the area of a soccer field. It will take a team of 50 men working around the clock two days to erect.
The lions will be flown in from the US, the elephant is coming in a jumbo jet from Spain and the dogs are arriving from Denmark, because Taiwan's strict quarantine laws make it too difficult to bring in Russian animals, Coad said.
Tickets went on sale Tuesday for the circus, which includes acrobatic troupes, a family of jugglers who perform on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, clowns and a team of “Olympic standard” gymnasts.
But the animals are likely to prove the biggest attraction of what organizers say is the first circus to visit Taiwan since 1993.
“Western audiences don't want to see animals anymore. But Chinese audiences do,” said Coad, an executive with Australian promoters Edgley International.
He said the Great Moscow Circus lost money — a rarity — when in 2001 it performed in Singapore with a limited troupe of animals. “We found out through word of mouth it was because we brought fewer animals,” he said.
Singapore in 2001 announced a ban on circuses with performing wild animals such as tigers, lions and elephants. The ban went into effect the following year. Similar bans are in effect in several Nordic countries, India, Israel and the Australian Capital Territory.
Coad said the Great Moscow Circus was “one of the world's best” because its animals and performers are well looked after. All animals in the circus were bred in captivity, he said.
He was speaking Monday after a press conference, which featured a publicity stunt that would probably be illegal in a more litigious country.
Hungarian daredevil Laszlow Simet — who was wearing a white-and-orange Elvis suit that sparkled in the sweltering afternoon sun — did a 10-minute walk in front of Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on a tightrope suspended 20m in the air.
As the sound system played a drum roll, an announcer informed the audience of journalists and curious onlookers that, “this is extremely dangerous. There is absolutely no safety equipment.”
Warming up before his feat, the steely-eyed Simet was the picture of concentration.
But afterwards his hands were shaking. “It was a bit windy, but it was within the limits,” he said. “As I went I felt the wire moving.”
Still, he insisted that he was not afraid, just “nervous.”
“You don't really think too much. You concentrate so much on the work that there's no room for thinking,” said Simet, who will perform in the circus with his Russian wife, Olga.
Four awestruck children who saw his balancing act were not keen on imitating him.
“It was scary. I was afraid he would fall,” said nine-year-old Hsinzi.
Grandmother 71-year-old Wu Yang Duo-hsiao was taking the girl and her cousins for a stroll and had not expected to see Simet, who she had seen perform in Taipei two decades ago.
“It was amazing,” she said of the previous circus. “I'm definitely taking my grandchildren to this one.”