RAS AL KHAIMAH // The Monte Carlo circus opened its show to a full tent Friday after the safe arrival of its lions and tiger, which were delayed in Egypt for almost a month by the popular uprising.
The circus was to have opened January 27 but was postponed because the animals could not be shipped.
The first performance on the Qawasim Corniche on Friday drew 1,300 spectators. Crowds since have averaged 700 a day at its morning and evening shows.
The show almost did not go on amid the chaos caused by the upheaval in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was toppled after almost 30 years in power. The country's infrastructure and economy ground to a virtual halt during nearly three weeks of protests, holding the big cats unwitting hostages.
Organisers had searched for replacement animals in other countries before their own lions and the tiger were able to leave Egypt.
"Everything is OK, they are here," said Chiheb Berrejab, one of the organisers. "They arrived a few days ago and the trainer and her father are here."
The Egyptian situation was not the first encounter with a nation in turmoil for the Monte Carlo circus, which recently finished a three-month tour of Iraq where the performers found themselves surrounded by a 24-hour military guard during their appearance in Basra.
Iraqi audiences were very appreciative of the entertainment on offer, said Jarda Ross, an Austrian magician whose family founded the circus in the 1800s.
"They wanted to show it was very safe and the people were very kind," he said.
"In Ras al Khaimah, people are not used to watching a two-hour show and they leave in the middle. They should stay."
European tourists have also delighted at finding a traditional circus in town, as it is becoming increasingly rare on their home continent due to the high cost of touring and the level of red tape.
"In Europe now every circus is closed. It's a new generation," said Mr Ross. "It's getting too expensive to travel: the diesel, the petrol …"
Transporting animals in Europe has become nearly impossible due to paperwork, increased attention from animal rights activists and the fact that animals now must be flown instead of shipped or transported over land.
That means the Monte Carlo, a circus which originated in Italy, has had to go further afield to find an audience.
"There are not many places to go any more," said Mr Ross, who performed for 10 years in Las Vegas and three years in Japan.
"You have to keep it up. We spend more time travelling than at home."
It is not the first visit to the Emirates for the Monte Carlo, which performed in Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah in the early 1990s. Performing in the UAE has become easier since that time - it is no longer necessary to stop for an hour before the call to prayer.
While both of the circus's daily performances are pitched as family entertainment, the 18-act evening show has more dangerous stunts and acrobatics than the daytime one.
In one feat of legerdemain, Mr Ross appears to impale his wife Beatrice with a sword from his collection. It's a trick young children should not be encouraged to try at home.
"You can't compare the day and the night show," said Mr Ross. "It's the same as movie ratings."
The tamer day shows open with the entrance of four skinny lions and a tiger. They leap through flaming hoops at the crack of a whip by a balding Egyptian man in a torn leopard print shirt.
When not performing, the lions look bored in their cages. Bushara, a female, snarls in discontent before she is silenced by a look from her trainer. The tiger, Madamoiselle Manuela, looks positively depressed.
That boredom does not filter down to the audience. A crowd of 300 schoolchildren crawled over their chairs for a closer look at the caged beasts.
Azza al Awadi, a Grade 3 teacher at the Ibn Dhaher school, said she had structured her teaching plans around the circus visit.
"We want to give children a chance to see the animals live," she said. "We are teaching about animals in school so this is great.
"The children will do a writing exercise about the animals they like. It's good that they have this live experience."
The circus will run until March 19. Tickets for the evening show are Dh35 for children, Dh50 for adults and Dh100 for VIP access.