By Katie Kyle
As my family and I glimpsed King Fahd Stadium for the first time, we knew this was going to be a historic night – a night of firsts.
We were on our way to see the first family sporting event ever to be held in a stadium in Riyadh. It would also be the first performance by the Nitro Circus in the city, showcasing its daring, high-octane stunts.
The stadium had a contagious celebratory vibe. We wended our way past the men, women, and children, queuing at brightly-lit, sweet-smelling vans laden with treats. The soulful notes of James Brown and Bill Withers filled the stadium, that was soon replaced with the deafening volume of the circus as the performance got underway. This was fingers-in-your-ears-fun!
As the performers were introduced, the multi-national character of this act became apparent. There were stuntmen from California, New Zealand, Australia, and there was one in a traditional Saudi thobe. In a poignant tribute, they dedicated the show to their friend and colleague, Eric Roner, who died in a sky-diving act, in 2015.
Before they started the stunts, we were shown footage of acts that had gone wrong. The hardest to watch was a tumble taken by Aaron Fotheringham, a stuntman defying the odds in a wheelchair. As he prepared to do a front-flip, the presenter explained his message: ‘Never give up’; Fotheringham didn’t, and performed a perfect turn.
The mood lightened as the performers scaled the 40-foot ‘Giganta’ ramp. Launching themselves from the top, they gave us somersaults, 360-degree upright turns, and backflips on bikes, skates, and skis. Then came the throaty sound of ten motorbikes. Flying through the air, they performed handstands, side turns, and back flips and front flips to a huge backdrop of flames.
Then some of the acts appeared to go wrong, either by design or because, as my 10-year-old daughter speculated, ‘They’re getting too showy-offy.’ Whichever was true, we were suitably nervous as we waited to see one of the biggest tricks in the world of BMX- a triple backflip.
‘I think something bad’s going to happen,’ whispered my daughter, but her nerves were misplaced as we counted three flips and a safe landing.
The grand finale: a continuous stream of wow-inducing stunts from all the motorbikes and bikes, simultaneously. As they soared through the air, there was a sense that anything might be possible in Riyadh this night.
Instagram: TIME Entertainment