From October 2, 2011
My soul feels stretched like endless mist across time, by thousands of years as I consider how "circus" has meant so many things to so many different people across time's evolving sweep -- from the blood and thunder of Roman chariot races to the soaring poetry of today's virtual ballets in the sky.
My soul accepts the infinite reality that "circus" will never always be the same, not by a thousand triples or a hundred pratfalls. And so, my spirit surrenders to what is out there now in the ring, coming my way, trying to win me over -- as opposed to what is no longer there and may never return. And in the acceptance of this, I take my seat yet another time, glance upon the ring before me as a blank slate, and hope it will fill and overflow in ways both familiar and fresh, sweep me up on a ride and, at the end, send me out still half-way in the air, cheered, inspired, a believer once more.
I know it may not, but if I do not go, what might I miss?
History shows us, whether we like it or not, that the show is forever changing, as it must if it is to stay alive in the present. Who could have imagined 20-30 years ago that Ringling-Barnum would not always present a flying trapeze act?
Old timers once lamented the passing of the talking clown. They resented the disruptive enormity of "three rings" rather than just a single circle.
Like shifting sand patterns on the beach, so too the shifting patterns of clubs in motion, bodies off springboards, dogs onto horses turning clever tricks ...
I entered the tents barely in time to catch the last act of the old Roman horse races ending the show. Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. still staged them, rough and real, as late as around 1960.
Midway through my spangled infatuations, the great Ringling ringmaster Harold Ronk, sitting out in the seats with me before a show at the Cow Palace, talked up the "four staples" he firmly believed to be circus essentials: "Elephants, flying acts, wild animals and clowns." How wise was he in his own time. Three of Harold's staples, in fact, match the only acts I can recall from my very first circus experience, around the age of five, at Polack Bros. Possibly Polack did not present wild animals, or they, too, I would have remembered.
Decades have passed. Now there is Cirque du Soleil, minus three of the staples. Now there is the "wheel of destiny," nearly a staple that was no where around when I peaked into the tent; now, dazzling ensemble variations on risley. And now, up there over the ring, young aerialists are carving out captivating new flight patterns in the big top skies.
Author Earl Chapin May called it "the ever changing, never changing circus." Lately, I have started to question his thesis. But then again, maybe in a broader sense he was right. Right if we accept the big top's surviving will and ability to reinvent its power to astound and amuse.
Next show, please! Stretch my soul in another unexpected direction, if you must. It feels more flexible, open, willing than ever. Show me whatever new magic you have that just might astound and amuse me. And renew my faith in the great spangled parade ...