Carson and Barnes Circus, in the 1960s

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Big Top Bits: Circus in the Eye of the Beholder...

Circus, a word denoting many things ... Today, we cringe at the phrase “Circus Maximus,” yet, so say the history books, multitudes of sadistic voyeurs once thrilled to the gory spectacles staged in the Roman Coliseum when those two words were infamously linked ....Today, “circus” to some still means snarling animals and daring wire walkers, but ... tomorrow? Give the world another fifty or a hundred seasons, and what they call “circus” might be far more ethereal, far less real... You’ve seen statically choreographed aerial workouts on the "bed sheets" (credit Sarasota Central for that phrase). You’ve seen the hula hoops ... Dream on, those of the circus ballet class, your era may yet dawn ...

Circus in Petaluma under a small colorful tent meant affordable amusement to grateful parents, I assume, their amused moppets on free tickets in toe. On the plank in front of mine, a young woman was telling her son, “Mommy had to pay eighteen dollars to get into the circus. That’s a lot of money.” The boy listened, but still wanted popcorn. Said the one controlling the purse strings, “I’ll make you some popcorn when we get home.” I was very touched by those words, perhaps recalling my own mother struggling to make ends meet in her time, and I studied the faces of the audience, seeing people who get up every day and do hard grim jobs and do the best they can to give their kids the things that other kids get ... The mother and son pair did not return to their seats following intermission. Perhaps the boy longed for popcorn more than for more of the show at hand ...

Latitude Laliberte. Up there, circus is far reaching, visionary, ultra produced, and even sometimes a little flat and boring. How long, wonder even Cirque's admiring fans, before it too may seem old hat? How long before a new force trumps Montreal? Or will Mr. Guy reinvent himself through another epoch or two? From Alan Cabal, on my ill fated attempts to reach Cirque du Out There (the interviews they promised that went sssss into the Montreal mist), “Guy Laliberte cannot descend from the empyrean to dialogue with a mere mortal! He has planets to tend to and worlds to create! He is, after all, no mere CEO, but The GUIDE ... I tried talking to God once, but I couldn’t get past voicemail.”

Little Top Bits, down here on earth: New Cole Circus reportedly landed a 7-day gusher out on Coney Island last July, and might for all I know repeat the drilling again. According to the Bandwagon’s take on the season just past, twas a great date with long anxious lines forming towards weekend shows (“packed houses Thursday through Sunday"), staged near the famed Stillwell Avenue station. I can see smiles all over Johnny Pugh’s face. For him “circus” is life ... Carson and Barnes, the new and perhaps last “Big One,” is taking on some bigger cities this year, as in Rome and Auburn and Reading and Jamestown, and, hey, they’re shuffling up to Buffalo, too, for a two dayer ... Gotta admire the bird in Barbara Byrd, a wide ranging show lady hoisting her tents this year from coast to coast... About Circus Osario, profiled above, sometimes a circus review would seem insensitively irrelevant (as if none of my others have). A mere chance discovery for me, spotting their tent from a bus en route to Santa Rosa, enough to get me off the return bus and into their tent... Circus to me: I always wonder, what might happen under that tent, in those rings.... On this occasion (basic skills basically on parade), it was the audience that moved me the most. Speaking of which, let’s give credit to Big Apple Circus for handing out around 50,000 tickets a year to school kids...

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