Thrills for the week

Thursday
October 2
Lions and tigers and hippos: While the highfalutin' crowd packs Cirque du Soleil's LoDo big top this month for swanky circus fare, the rest of us can simply experience the Greatest Show on Earth. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus--featuring old-fashioned carnival attractions such as Zusha the performing hippopotamus, Mexico's Flying Caballeros trapeze show, a talented trio of baby elephants and the Golden Pyramid (an astonishing four-man balancing act from Hungary), along with the totally '90s Oxygen Skate Team and a unicycle-riding basketball team--is coming to town for eleven days at the Denver Coliseum, 4600 Humboldt St., beginning tonight at 7:30. This year the circus enhances its sense of immediacy by including in the price of admission the hands-on Three-Ring Adventure, a pre-show opportunity for families to try out juggling, low-wire walking and other circus skills, clown around with experts or meet performing animals and their trainers. (The arena floor is open one hour prior to every show.) Ticket prices range from $10.50 to $15.50 (tonight's Family Night opener offers a $5 discount on all tickets); for complete showtimes and reservations call 830-TIXS.

Friday
October 3
Learn and live: The facts about HIV and AIDS get a straightforward treatment in What About AIDS?, an informative new exhibit for families opening today at the Denver Museum of Natural History, 2001 Colorado Blvd. Photos, videos, interactive displays and touching testimonials clearly spell out the history, impact and future of the virus in a manner accessible to people of all ages. In addition, trained volunteers will be on hand to answer questions, and a connection to the National AIDS Hotline will be available. The exhibit remains on view at the museum through January 4; call 322-7009 for information.

Do what you like: Downtown, uptown, down south, out west--few musicians cover more territory as effortlessly as guitarist Bill Frisell, and certainly none have more fun. Physically, the shy ax-wielder has been everywhere from New York's Knitting Factory to Nashville; conceptually, he's traveled from avant-garde improvisational jazz to sweet and loopy Americana, but one of his current projects involves a savvy and sublimely modern quartet that includes Denver trumpeter Ron Miles, trombone player Curtis Fowlkes and violinist Eyvind Kang. They'll be at his side tonight at 8 at the Boulder Theater, 2030 14th St., Boulder; for tickets, $17.50-$22, call 786-7030.

In the wash: An extra-sudsy weekend is in store for beer lovers at the 16th annual Great American Beer Festival, which returns to Currigan Exhibition Hall, 1327 Champa St., for three foamy weekend sessions. Featuring more than 1,700 brews from 400 breweries, the public part of the festival opens its doors tonight and tomorrow from 5:30 to 10, with an additional daytime session thrown in tomorrow from 1 to 5. Admission is $28 in advance ($30 at the door) and is good for unlimited one-ounce tastes, a commemorative glass and a program. Designated drivers are recommended; to order tickets call 447-0126.

Saturday
October 4
Do or die: Okay, people, listen up: If you can't find something to do around town today, you're in big trouble--especially since plenty of the action is free, or at least cheap. For starters, you need go no farther than the 7 Performing Arts Festival, a sprawling cultural affair taking place from 10 to 5 today and 11 to 5 tomorrow in and around the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets. It's a massive, kaleidoscopic showcase of everything artful under the Colorado sun, including dance, visual art, spoken word, theater and music--some of it watchable and some of it participatory. There are simply too many highlights to list them all, but here are a few: Mayor Webb presides over opening ceremonies at the new Performing Arts Sculpture Park today at noon (Deborah Reshotko and troupe will also present outdoor Dancin' in the Park there several times each day); a Best of Colorado Theater Showcase gives a peek at what's up this fall, with fourteen of the state's best companies; the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Ballet and Opera Colorado all perform; wire sculptor Tim Flynn hosts a Great Balls of Fire croquet game/installation; and "Free for All" matinee performances of Always...Patsy Cline and The Servant of Two Masters will be offered (seating is limited, and required tickets will be available, one per person, at the Plex box office two hours before performances only). Festival admission is free; for details call 640-2758.

On a smaller scale, Teatro Latino de Colorado debuts a bilingual puppet-theater series at Art Center of the West, 721 Santa Fe Dr., with shows today and tomorrow at noon and 2. A Castle With Creepy Creatures will be staged at the same times every Saturday and Sunday in October; Day of the Dead- and Christmas-themed programs follow in November and December. Admission is $3; call 595-3821.

And things are looking up today for serious stargazers: In celebration of Colorado Astronomy Day, the Denver Astronomical Society presents programs at the Gates Planetarium (noon to 4 p.m., Denver Museum of Natural History, 2001 Colorado Blvd.) and the Chamberlin Observatory (6 to 11 p.m., 2930 E. Warren Ave.) that include educational displays and new Mars pictures during daylight hours and telescope viewing at night.

Finally, rhythmic music to soothe the soul can be found tonight at 7:30 at the Boulder Public Library Auditorium, 1000 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, where virtuoso electric bassist Kai Eckhardt, a fusion phenom who's performed alongside John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Trilok Gurtu, joins Boulder tabla specialist Ty Burhoe on stage. Tickets are $10; call 447-8150.

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