Leader of the Pachyderms

All good things must come to an end, my grandmother always used to say. Once again, it looks like she was right. A celebrated performer is stepping out of the spotlight for the final time. Children and adults have adored her for 15 years, but now the time has come for Flora the elephant to call it quits and enjoy the twilight of her life. I mean, come on, she's almost 19. That's old even by Hollywood standards.

If you want to catch her farewell performance, Circus Flora will be pitching its tent in Tempe this year on the corner of Rural Road and Rio Salado Parkway from December 26 to January 7.

Flora's story might have come right out of the Disney vaults. She was orphaned in 1983, when ivory poachers killed her mother. Baby Flora was alone and starving when Ivor David Balding found her and brought her back to the United States. In 1985, Flora and Balding formed Circus Flora, and have been entertaining fans ever since. Their mission was to create an intimate one-ring family-based show, like the European circuses of old.

After this tour, Flora will be packing her trunk and moving to a private elephant sanctuary in South Carolina, hopefully to start a family of her own. "Although we will miss her more than we can say, we are happy for her," says Balding, current artistic director of Circus Flora (see next week's issue for more on Balding). "We also want everyone to know that Circus Flora will continue, without Flora. We invite everyone to come and wish her farewell."

The "Farewell to Flora" tour will include some old favorites, along with a few new surprises. Such circus icons as the Flying Wallendas and Yo-Yo the clown will be joined by trick riding Cossacks -- probably worth the price of admission all by themselves -- and, we are told, a "warm and friendly" clown from Cirque du Soleil. I'll believe that when I see it.

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James Ward