WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Amid the roar of motorcycles whizzing past her at breakneck speeds, walking on a high wire 22 feet above the floor and the 12-inch knives thrown at her, Maria Dominguez finds something magical.
The mother of three boys thrives on the thrill of performing, a trait she acquired from her father, Gaston, who walked the high wire and painted his face as a circus clown.
She spent three months with him in Mexico in 1997, traveling from her native Chile, and hasn’t turned back. She’s part of the Lopez Troupe in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Gold Edition Fully Charged show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza this week.
It’s a smaller version of the three-ring show, featuring only one ring. There are elephants and horses, camels and dogs, and performers who dance and sing to lasers and LEDs. The audience can sit ringside, close enough to see and hear the sights and sounds.
Dominguez knows all about close.
She is one of three motorcyclists circling inside The Globe of Steel. The bikes reach speeds up to 65 mph while spinning around the 12-foot diameter cage. At one point, the lights shut off in the arena and the LEDs on the motorcycles criss-cross in a dizzying pattern.
“It’s very dangerous, but at the same time it’s really cool,” Dominguez said. “There’s no room for mistakes.”
It took two years of practice before she could master the Globe and join her husband, Jonathan, and his brother Johan. She exits for a bit during the show to make room for Johan’s wife, Erika, to step inside, allowing the remaining riders to dodge her.
As workers raised the rigging with speakers, lights and curtains for the show, the menacing, black steel ball was parked off to the side for assembly.
Dominguez, a petite 30-year-old, rejoins her husband on the high wire, something she learned from her father starting on a wire only 2 feet off the ground.
The husband and wife work without either a net or safety lines. Dominguez said he is the only performer in the world who does a handstand atop a bicycle on the wire.
The troupe squeezes in a knife-throwing act for the performance, too.
Dominguez said she’s not afraid and hasn’t been injured by the razor-sharp blades that come within inches of her body. The danger is real, and so is this audience’s reaction — another reason why Dominguez chose the circus life.
“I like the high adrenaline,” she said.
She has traveled to Canada, Mexico and Latin America and is glad to perform before crowds made up of children, teenagers and adults. With all the entertainment options available, the circus is still one of the few that can bring families together, she said.
Doing her part behind the scenes, Jessica Clowers tends the menagerie of three camels, a miniature horse, two ponies, two horses, dogs and two Asian elephants. The 32-year-old veterinary technician is on-call around the clock and makes the rounds daily to check on them.
The performers have emergency medical technicians for injuries, she said. “I’m here for the animals,” Clowers said.
Today is her birthday and she expects some hi-jinks from the clowns.
She’ll be watching out, she said, for a pie in the face.