The Carden Circus, based in Willard, is in town and back at the Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque for the first time since 2015.
George Carden called me this week, as he has in prior years when his circus is in town.
Of course, he wanted me to write a story.
Pitch me, I said. What’s new?
He said he had a new act I had to see to believe. (Yes, he talks just like that.)
It involved three men who move their limbs and body parts in ways that defy human anatomy and make you groan in amazement and sympathetic pain.
Despite his enthusiasm, I could not picture this. So, on Wednesday morning I went to the Mosque and Carden had them give me a command performance.
I was fixated; I groaned.
I have seen individual contortionists and I have a nephew who can do a real weird thing with his arm. But I had never seen anything like the Bone-Breakers.
They are contortionists. Maybe dancers, too. Maybe synchronized contortionist dancers. Or perhaps yogis. They do, in fact, practice yoga, they tell me.
They stretch and bend and, at one point, it looked like one of them twisted the head of another 180-degrees so the face was in a place you would never expect to find a face — above the shoulder blades.
I would not play Twister with these guys.
They are from Conakry in the West Africa nation of Guinea.
They wowed Simon Cowell and company on “America’s Got Talent” in June 2020.
In that performance — as well as several others I’ve looked at online — there was a fourth member.
“I only hired three of them,” Carden tells me. “I think the fourth guy went back to his home country.”
Carden saw that “America’s Got Talent” episode and decided then-and-there he wanted them in his circus.
The Bone-Breakers are Mohamed Bangoura, 24; Norbert Tomguino, 25; and Alhssane Keita, 24.
They speak English and have performed together for five years. They met as boys at a circus school in Guinea.
The colors of their stage outfits are the colors of the Guinea flag: red, yellow and green. They consider themselves “brothers” but are not related.
I ask: Were you born double- or triple-jointed or whatever abnormality it takes to do what I just saw?
“I was born a little bit flexible,” says Bangoura. “I worked on it and there are all the tricks we learned.”
If there were tricks or illusions in their contortions, I certainly did not notice them.
Yes, they say, they miss their families back in Guinea, although Bangoura and Keita are married and their wives live with them while they are in the United States.
The best part of the circus, they say, is the rush they feel responding to the energy of the crowd and sensing its awe.
The evolution of Carden’s circus
Carden will be 70 next month. He will semi-retire, he says, and let his son Brett have more control.
“I’ve got a house on the water in Florida and a 200-acre farm in Oldfield surrounded by national forest where you can’t see another house and once in a while can see a bear,” he says.
He bought the circus from his father Larry 44 years ago and has done just about everything there is to do in a circus.
He has sold concessions and filled buckets with water for performers and animals. He was a trapeze performer and has been eyeball-to-eyeball with lions and elephants. I wrote about his life in a 2018 story in the Springfield News-Leader.
He tells me he’s glad to be back at the Shrine Mosque.
“It is great to be with the Shriners. I do not have to tell anybody what they do for kids,” he says.
Although the JQH Arena was bigger, MSU charged a facility fee that caused higher ticket prices, Carden says.
In addition, parking is $5 near the Mosque, compared to $10 at MSU.
“JQH is a great place and they were great to us,” he says.
But it was too costly, he says, considering his circus audience typically is from the middle class or lower-middle class.
Nevertheless, he’s found the biggest cannon he could fit inside the Mosque for the human cannonball, which he describes as the greatest closing act in circus history.
He rattles off other acts, including five motorcycles in the same globe, the Giant Wheel, Arabian horses and eight camels — four brown and four white — and a high-wire act.
This year’s show has Carden’s first Black ringmaster, Lucky Malatsi.
It also includes elephants, which has become increasingly controversial over the years.
Carden once had 27 elephants. He now has four. Two are in the Springfield show.
He no longer replaces them once they die or are retired.
This year’s show has 58 people in it, he says. Many are from distant lands.
“It is like family,” says Bangoura, one of the Bone-Breakers. “It’s a lot of people from different places and now we are all in this together.”
Want to attend?
The circus runs through Sunday, Feb. 27, at the Shrine Mosque, 601 E St Louis St., Springfield. Shows are at:
Thursday, Feb. 24, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 25, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 26, 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 27, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Tickets range from $4 in the upper balcony to $28 ringside.
They can be purchased at the door or online.
This is Pokin Around column No. 16.