Thursday, March 20, 2014

Anthony Gatto, Now Retired: Greatest Unknown Juggler in Big Top History? A Tale Told Too Many Times

1/7/15: Preface:  Issuing high marks to Cirque du Soleil's Kooza, which just opened in London's Royal Albert Hall, blogger Douglas McPherson writes, this edition "not only asserts Soleil’s supremacy atop the tree of cirque but is a very accessible and circusy show."

As much as missing a CDS tent, McPherson rues not being able to see Anthony Gatto, who performed with Kooza during its first years.  Here is my post, from March last year, on the sudden and strange retirement of Gatto.

From March 20, 2014:

Indeed, the now 40-year-old juggler, judged by some to be “the greatest in the world” may go down in history for his remarkably anonymous career.

When I first saw him, on Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, I was swept away.  Spellbound.   Awed and astounded.  Practically brought to my feet, overjoyed with the discovery of so dazzling a ring star.

I thought to myself, and I wrote it on the review I posted on this blog: whomever he is, Monte Carlo should send him the Gold right now, no questions asked, no appearances expected.

Anthony Gatto.

The first and only juggler ever to win the Gold Clown at Monte Carlo -- before he landed in Kooza.  That night, the judges were on their game.  .

With CDS, he wowed crowds while at the same time remaining anonymous.  As anonymous as those insulating mug shots of the artists  in a typical CDS program booklet.  Maybe he preferred it that way.

He was not a particularly nice person. Surely, not accessible.  He was so driven a genius, claiming to have spent 10-12 hours a day in practice and preparation. little wonder he had no time for anything or anybody but his art.  Yes, he did show up on some TV shows; some insiders knew about him. 

He flourished in the glitzy shadows of neon-crazed Vegas, and then under a CDS tent, ending up with the company’s Florida unit.

And now he is, it has recently been noted — the noting itself another near-anonymous act — hiding out in retirement.  Managing a cement construction firm.  Raising a son.  And what else?  Might he be harboring second thoughts – how could he not?  Remember Miguel Vazquez, as legendary on the trapeze as was Gatto with clubs and hoops.  Vazquez fell into a kind of self-imposed isolation. In Las Vegas. 

A writer and profound fan named Jason Fagone, reporting and opining on the website Grantland (link below)  tried reaching Gatto for an interview when he was still technically listed in the Florida unit.  He got through on a phone call, but found the voice at the other end sounding “irritated” and distant, evasive.  Fagone was told  to go through the PR office of CDS; that office in turn threw up the face of smug indifference it plays so insultingly well. I know that anonymously unfeeling face.  

Gatto should have appeared in circus troupes around the world; I doubt that he did. He should have been a headliner with Big Apple (too big an ego for them?), with Ringling (not enough money/), with Knie and other global big tops of merit.  He would have garnered major media notice. The Felds might have made him a player in prime time.

But, greater picture, circus artists exist in anonymity to begin with; other than the name Wallenda, who have you seen lately getting fawned over on TV?  In the tabloids?  On Dancing With ...?

There was a day when names like Codona and Leitzel (above),  Herbert and Wallenda and Beatty were popularly known. Written about.   Never did they quite reach the visibility of a movie star or recoding artist, but they made headlines, landed photos in magazines.  The public at large knew about them.  No longer.  I could ask any of my non-circus friends: Have you heard of the Felds?  Gunther Gebel Williams? Bello Nock?   Sylvia Zerbini?  Anthony Gatto? You know the puzzled looks I’d get.

Gatto came and went – a wizard  of untold magic from another planet. That’s how he struck me that day in SF when I first saw him perform with the Cirque-us, a flashing revelation of miraculous power and agility from out of no where. I’d rank that discovery of mine up there with the Wallenda 7-high walk over the high wire in the Grace Pavilion when Polack Bros. Came to Santa Rosa in my boyhood. 

Gatto jumped quickly onto something I’d written about him, featuring it for a time on his blog; I wrote him a few times, asking for an interview of some kind.  Did I ever get an answer?  The silence I got felt par for the CDS course.  But then again, to be fair, neither could I get through to Miguel Vazquez -- the latter was simply no where to be found, hiding out, you might say, in his own way.

Anthony Gatto, if this retirement holds, will have ended his days of greatness in the murky mist of Cirque du Soleil, perhaps feeling perfectly at home playing a typical CDS mysteriously non-human character.  Indeed, the context of Kooza surely helped sell him to my soul more than would a bargain basement tent or a huge old civic arena.  Perhaps we might agree that Gatto and Laliberte were perfectly made for each other.

Anthony Gatto chose his own strange path. We never got to know him.  When he struck me as coming from another planet, perhaps in his own mind, he had.  Ego and ambition can do that.

My thanks to Jack Ryan for sending me a link to the story:  It goes terrifically in depth:



Douglas McPherson said...

Why no circus celebrities? It's something that's puzzled me for a while. In the whole of the 20th century I can think of only two circus performers who became household names in Britain. Both were clowns: Coco and Charlie Cairoli - and Charlie's fame came more from having his own TV show than his circus work. The only other circus names that the man in the street would recognise were all showmen, or brands: Billy Smart, Gerry Cottle, Chipperfields, just as we have CDS today. I would have thought star names would sell tickets. But here's the thing. Stars command big salaries - something circus proprietors never like paying. Stars also leave and join better paying rivals, and maybe take their fans with them. So perhaps circus owners deliberately avoid creating stars that could become bigger than their show's brand. I've a feeling the shows are missing out, but it's probably the artistes that miss out the most by having no big name status with which to bargain for better pay and conditions. How many retire rich?

Showbiz David said...

In recent decades, two major contributors to keeping the names of circus artists anonymous are the acrobatic troupes of China, and Cirque du Soleil. The latter treats its performers rather insultingly, giving each a tiny mug shot in program materials! So, maybe your points about pay scale dynamics are well taken
Years ago, Ringling's Irving Feld, a master press agent (and media manipulator), pushed some of his ring stars, certainly Gunther Gebel Williams and quad king Miguel Vazquez. But unlike actors and singers whose celebrity goes with them to the grave, not so the few big top icons who generate press for a season or two. If I asked a friend about Williams or Vazquez, chances are they would be clueless.

The Feld PR no doubt helped bolster ticket sales, but truth is, the public does not go to circuses expecting known names. In NY, of course, Grandma was a well known name -- locally. On Ringling, they seem to be building ringmaster Jonathan Lee Iverson up -- or it may be his own initiative, I don't think he suffers a weak ego.