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Published: Saturday, 8/13/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

LAST STOP IN NORTHWEST OHIO

One-ring wonder resounds with local circus enthusiasts

Kelly Miller packs them in at Sylvania Twp.

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tigers obey the commands of their trainer, rolling around and impressing audience members during
their performance at the Kelly Miller Circus in Sylvania Township.. Tigers obey the commands of their trainer, rolling around and impressing audience members during their performance at the Kelly Miller Circus in Sylvania Township..
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The bleachers were packed and the air properly sultry Friday inside the big tent staked in a Sylvania Township field.

The circus was in town -- "America's One Ring Wonder," the program's headline read, "Kelly Miller Circus, owned and operated by John Ringling North II."

The audience, age diverse and children all, marveled at the tigers and elephants and gasped at the aerialists and acrobats inside the big top at Brint and Centennial roads.

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Few showed the enthusiasm of Katie Donatini, 25, of Sylvania, who was about 10 when she last attended a circus, and a sterile indoor event at that.

She leaned forward as tiger master Ryan Holder led five cats through their paces -- jumping over each other; lying side by side, stock still, a living striped carpet; walking and hopping forward and backward on their hind legs.

Then, on command, the tigers rolled over and over around the circus ring.

"They're still rolling! Oh, my God!" Ms. Donatini said to her aunt, Carol Connolly Pletz.

"I'm out-of-my-mind excited," she said during a break in the action. "I love the animals."

Her aunt said, "This is like the old-time circus where they came to town and set up a tent."

Ben Eisel helps his daughter Lilli Eisel get a big bite out of her snow cone during a refreshing pause to the circus excitement. Ben Eisel helps his daughter Lilli Eisel get a big bite out of her snow cone during a refreshing pause to the circus excitement.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Gabe Anteau, 8, of Sylvania -- who after his face painting resembled Spider-Man -- is a circus watching veteran who most enjoys the acrobats.

"I kind of like the way they move around and how they fly," he said.

Afternoon and evening performances in Sylvania Township to benefit the Sylvania Sunrise Lions Club were the last stops for the Kelly Miller Circus in northwest Ohio. The circus made its annual trek to Kelleys Island on Sunday -- a five-hour venture involving two ferries and five trips to transport the circus, its cast, and 40 vehicles. The operation in reverse returned the circus to the mainland for performances Wednesday in Woodville and Thursday in Point Place. The next stops are in the Detroit area.

The booming voice of Ringmaster John Moss III caught the crowd's attention. He advised them to make note of the fire exits, refrain from using cell phones, and warned of the prohibition on recording the show.

At the afternoon performance, with a drum roll, he introduced guest ringmaster John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade.

"It's an honor to be here," said Mr. Block, a longtime circus enthusiast. "Thank you for bringing the circus to Toledo and Sylvania. There's not a bad seat in the house.

"On with the show!"

And nearly two hours of circus entertainment was under way.

Mr. Block watched the show ringside with his wife, Susan Jones Block; his daughter, Caroline; his brother, Allan Block, who is chairman of Block Communications Inc., parent firm of The Blade, and his mother-in-law, Donna Jones.

Wild West themes were peppered throughout: The red-spangled showgirls at the Broken Spur Saloon turned on ropes suspended from a cable high over the ring. The audience paid rapt attention to Joel Faulk and his lariat, which he made spin fast and spin slow at will. A collection of small dogs in neckerchiefs danced and jumped through hoops. There was even a spot in the act for a gray-jowled, barrel-shaped dog.

A change in theme brought the "Silk Road Camels" to the ring, accompanied by women in South Asian dress, dancing to music that was vaguely Bollywood. Four camels cantered around the ring and then broke formation to turn circles in opposing directions, a kind of Busby Berkeley routine for dromedaries.

Guest ringmaster John Robinson Block, longtime circus enthusiast, thanks the Kelly Miller Circus for pitching their Big Tent in this corner of Northwest Ohio. Guest ringmaster John Robinson Block, longtime circus enthusiast, thanks the Kelly Miller Circus for pitching their Big Tent in this corner of Northwest Ohio.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
"The puppies were cute," said India White, 10, of Toledo. Sarai Peterson, 12, also of Toledo, was impressed by the acrobatics and flexibility of the Poema family. Their friend and chaperone, Dominique Armstrong, 21, of Sylvania, liked all the animals.

"It's amazing you can actually teach them," she said.

Ms. Donatini looked forward especially to the elephants, who did not disappoint as they marched around the ring or moved their legs to the Mexican Hat Dance or fell to their sides as a lullaby played or flapped their ears in front of ringside guests.

"They were the most amazingly beautiful creatures," Ms. Donatini said. "I almost got a little teary-eyed."

The circus is the only fund-raiser for the Sylvania Sunrise Lions Club. It received $7,000 last year from the circus for its projects to provide eye care and eyewear. Treasurer Bob Rank said that based on yesterday's attendance, he expected the club to top that. The afternoon performance was nearly at the tent's 1,200-person capacity, Lions' co-chairman Candice Fournier said.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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