Disappearing with a travelling troupe used to be the only way to learn the tricks of the circus trade if you weren’t born into an established circus family. Over the last 50 years, however, that has been changing with an ever-increasing number of clubs, schools and training centres appearing around the world.
A big red, white ‘n’ blue tent sits in the corner of the park, surrounded by big American style trucks to match, all emblazoned with circus imagery for Uncle Sam’s Great American Circus. Don’t expect to see any real Americans, but do prepare yourself for a polished representation of what popular imagination says a circus should be.
A white circus tent with strings of fairy lights and goblin-sculpture guardians sits under the trees in the University of Muenster’s campus grounds. During the day it has been home to an international conference of circademics, but evening brings a decided air of fantasy.
The UK towns and countryside look busy as ever with festivals and free events adding to the circus fare this month. Anything else we should be looking out for or reporting on?
Here is a book that hits all my buttons: It’s a book about circus; it’s a book about writing; most importantly, it’s a book about writing about circus! David Lewis Hammarstrom wrote his first circus review at the age of 14, frustrated then – as I often am still now – about the lack of critical appraisal in a mainstream media that doesn’t know its circus onions, or in fan press that accentuates only positives and gives little sense of relative perspective.
Dressing up boxes, jewels, and the English countryside are three of the prominent phrases that stick in my mind from the Giffords Circus website. And, as if by magic, they have all been brought to life in the quintessentially quaint circus pitch in the fields of Fennells Farm, and in the Elizabethan opulence that waits inside the bright white tent.
Circus Zyair was one of the first classic tenting companies I ever saw, back in 2014. I remember loving the show, and the review I wrote has been consistently one of the most visited pages of this site ever since. But now I wonder, ‘What if that was my inexperience with the form showing? If I saw the same production now would it still impress?’
This month we made a pilot for a monthly ‘What’s On’ guide for circus in the UK. Let us know what you think!
Zippos Circus have been a fixture amid the fairy lights of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland since 2009, presenting a family show during the day, and more daredevil fare in the evening.
The biennial Dutch festival of international circus arts has had a rebrand this year, from the tongue twisting Circo Circolo to the plainer Festival Circolo. I am pleased to report, however, that the programme and atmosphere of the 10-day event retain their high quality, remaining for from plain.
‘Did you know this is a family circus?‘ I’m asked by my acrobat neighbour, as we take our seats on the wooden benches around the sawdust ring. I was aware that Belgian troupe, Circus Ronaldo, are made up of real family members, so I answer yes, missing the point of her question.
Impresario Gerry Cottle has one of the most recognisable names in British circus and family entertainment, thanks to an extensive touring career over half a century, regular television appearances.
Wild West inspired acts have been a feature of circus since William Cody’s Buffalo Bill show took off across the States in the late 1800s. Trick riding, so often associated with cowboys and rodeos, was of course a feature of circus since its foundations in 18th Century London.
Entering the turreted world of tents that forms the Cirque du Soleil pop-up kingdom on the waterfront of Old Montréal, we pass under bright yellow arches of truss, adorned with the butterflies that form one of Luzia‘s recurring motifs of beauty and the propagation of life. The show is subtitled ‘A Waking Dream of Mexico’, and sits in the realm of magic realism that latin authors conjure so well. A red-nosed squeaking maitre’d burbles about, crowds of business people sip champagne in canvas VIP rooms, and beyond is the main big top with its integrated foyer.
The yellow and red striped tent of UniverSoul Circus aptly signals the gaiety it houses inside. This is circus reinvented as one big party, with a communal spirit at its heart. A jaunty logo decorates exterior fencing and interior merchandise booths with a globe that wears its own big top like a hat. Past the red-coated vendors, camel rides, and tuxedo’d ringhands, the logo appears again, playing across the moving LED screen ring doors as we take our seats around the perimeter.
The 11th season from family owned and operated Circus Mondao is a welcome reminder that the best shows don’t always come from the biggest operators. Away from the big city, their tents are pitched in the Welsh hills, amid damp earth and friendly smiles. Blue and gold military uniforms for the performers serving front of house match the blue of the big top, and the matching stable tents out back.
A pristine white tent in the carpark of the football stadium marks the temporary pitch of Continental Circus Berlin in Cardiff. A spacious foyer tent is edged with stands selling burgers, candyfloss, flashy toys or popcorn but, passing through the canvas tunnel, the airy lightness gives way to vivid reds inside the main big top. Green tinged lights and neon lit stairs around the ring doors, topped with hooped arches, suggest a Weimar-era Berlin, while a much more modern giant cuddly snake takes pride of place in the centre of the ring among the other soft raffle prizes on offer.
The Insect Circus is a delightful wonderland of incredible mini-beasts, grown to human proportions and trained for our viewing pleasure by a multi-talented troupe of performers, headed up by BAFTA winning Creative Director Mark Copeland and his partner Emma Munro. Like any variety show, the line-up regularly changes, and today the show is brought to us by a company of 14, including the little girls who look after the flies. You heard right.
My first circus of 2016 has been a roller coaster – some highs, some lows, some coasting and most certainly a whole load of thrills. Presented by the Planet Circus team (who also brought the Continental Circus Berlin to Star City for last year’s Christmas show), this is the second time the Great Canadian Circus has appeared in the UK and this afternoon, with only one more day of performances left, the big top is completely sold out.
Outside it’s damp, and dark by 5pm, making the coloured lights and vibrant temptations inside the Gandey’s tent even more enticing. This is a traditional show (sans animals, as is the current fashion) and, after passing through the foyer tent with its hot and cold concessions stand, my first thrill comes from heading down the blue canvas corridor, sides crossed with bunting, to emerge into the main arena filled with feel-good modern pop music.
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