"You saw it right here in Salt Lake City, ladies and gentlemen - the greatest event in all circus history . . . " the ringmaster intoned. It was the opening night of the 118th edition of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on Wednesday and this particular greatest event was a quadruple somersault performed by Miguel Vazquez of the Flying Vazquez, Celestial Circus Champions, High Above Ring One.

Ah, the circus. Where superlatives feel as comfortable as sequins and every year is different but somehow the same.

The elephants are there again this year. Seventeen of them, equaling "forty thousand pounds of parading pachyderms." They still line up with their feet on the shoulders of the one ahead and walk forwards and backwards and are amazing and yet comfortingly the same as they were the first time you ever saw a circus.

(The costumes of the "bejeweled beauties" who cavort with the elephants seem a bit different this year, however. They seem to be getting progressively skimpier.)

Here's something else different about this year's circus: In the cage with the performing lions and tigers ("trained but untamed") are two St. Bernards. They drooled a bit as St. Bernards are wont to do and in other ways seemed less intelligent than their feline costars. But it was an interesting combination. Big Dogs added a different twist to the compulsory Big Cat act.

And speaking of different twists - an acrobatic troupe from the People's Republic of China wound themselves in red ribbons and performed "marvelously muscular mid-air maneuvers." Talk about your upper body strength. These men had the best new act of the evening.

And which was the best traditional act? Well, the trapeze acts were excellent. Miguel Vazquez was nifty, as was Bistra (an extremely brave woman who hurtles headfirst from the very top of the arena to the floor in one second flat). Also the human cannonballs, Captain Christopher and Commander Weiss, were very satisfying.

Then too, the Alligator Monarch of Morocco has some unusual skills.

But this year's most enduring, endearing entertainers (sorry, alliteration abounds at the circus and it gets in your brain) have to be the clowns. This is the 20th anniversary of the Ringling Bros. Clown College and the troupe performed some of their traditional skits in celebration. They did the one where 16 clowns pile out of a tiny car. They also did the Frantic Firefighters. During intermission, they came through the audience charming the children with their mime.

In short the circus was the circus. Immodest, but also The Greatest Show On Earth.

The Salt Palace was full; the audience was pleased, and seemed to feel they got their money's worth. Here are a few of the comments we overheard:

"I can't look. Tell me when it's over."

"I wonder if they have a chiropractor who travels with the show."

"I can't look. Now what are they doing?"

"Mom, how come they call everything the "greatest on earth?"

"I can't look."

" Help! Which ring am I supposed to be watching?"