Friday, 19 June 2015

The Circus Comes To Town

Zippos Circus, Glasgow. June 2015

Some circus memories triggered off by our trip to Zippos Circus last night


Zippos Circus in Glasgow

My eight year old daughter recently saw posters for Zippos Circus, who were about to perform in Glasgow's Victoria Park. She said she wanted to go and I was amazed when she said that she had never seen a circus before. As a child in Glasgow we went every Christmas to the Robert Brothers circus in the Kelvin Hall. We went with my parents and my grandad, who loved circuses and I can remember him rolling backwards and forwards in exaggerated laughter after clowns had thrown a bucket of water over us that turned out to be confetti. In the Kelvin Hall you would go into the carnival first, look at (and smell) the sad elephant in its carnival cubicle and be enticed into the circus in the adjacent hall. The Kelvin Hall was home to Glasgow's annual circus from 1924 until 1987 when it was converted into a sports arena. So for me the circus always evokes a nostalgia for my Glasgow childhood of the 1970s and 1980s. I realised that it was time to take my children to the circus again, as we hadn't been for about 6 years, so it was no wonder that my youngest couldn't remember.

Programme for National Theatre of
Scotland's "Wall of Death"
The circus which I remember in the Kelvin Hall was very much the type of circus which features in the film Dumbo, with elephant acts, acrobats, clowns and tight-rope walkers. Many of these acts require great strength, practice, skill and bravery which modern day audiences don't require from their performers in the days of CGI enhanced films. There is no digital enhancement in the circus, it's all real. The nostalgic Victorian circus acts like the motorcycling "Wall of Death" was the subject of a National Theatre of Scotland piece in 2010. That captured the feel of the strange, itinerant life of circus performers. One of the finest circuses which I ever saw was in Soviet-era Moscow in 1985. Russian circus goes back to the time Catherine the Great founded two circuses after seeing a travelling English circus. In Soviet times the circus enjoyed great state subsidies, put on a par with other art forms like ballet and opera. In the Moscow State Circus arena there were 5 interchangeable floors under the circus ring which came up between acts. After some acrobatics a floor for equestrian acts would come into place, then an ice rink for massed skaters, including a large, uncomfortable bear in ice skates. A pool would be brought up to allow some seals to perform, then another floor where tigers and elephants did their thing. That has probably been the biggest change in circuses over the years, the increased concern for animal welfare meaning that large animals are no longer the main attraction and I'm sure few would complain about this.

Moscow State Circus Programme
Like many people I've seen the Moscow State Circus when they've toured to Glasgow in their tents also, last time about 10 years ago in Bellahouston Park I think. They have toured the world since 1956, at that time as a Communist cultural export to the world, and when we saw them they have some fantastic acrobatic performers and old fashioned strongman acts, with trucks driving over them.

Programme for Medrano Circus
The last circus which we saw as a family (which my daughter was too young to remember) was in the south of France when we were on holiday. I came back from an early morning wander around town to get some croissants to inform everyone that I'd spotted a circus tent in town and had excitedly bought tickets for the evening performance. European tastes on animal performers were slightly at odds with British circuses at that time and as well as Chinese acrobats, clowns, trapeze artistes and jugglers we saw tigers, elephants camels and horses. I have to say, the mixed smells of animal dung and candy floss is something that the modern circuses just don't manage to recreate. The headline act that night were a Brazilian team of motorcyclists, the Diorios and their "incroyable Globe Infernal". I think I recognised a couple of them in the Zippos headline act last night.



Aerial artiste Stephanie
Zippos 2015 Circus Show, under the name "OMG!" contains all the things you'd expect. You realise that the people collecting your tickets and selling you programmes are soon going to be putting on their costumes and leaping about for your entertainment. In a small circus venue you are also face to face with the performers and see the effort they are putting in, the muscles on their arms. You can also see that if Stephanie the "aerial artiste" falls to the floor there is no safety net or ropes to help her.  Animal acts have largely downsized from lions and elephants to dogs and budgies, with some handsome performing horses mixed through the show too. The acrobatics of the "Zulu Warriors" were my favourites whilst my children preferred the slightly terrifying German double act on the "Wheel of Death".



Duo Galaxy, The Wheel of Death
Clowns you either love or hate. My grandad loved them, the more hammy the better. Musical clowns the Rastellis go through many classic old clowning tropes with great aplomb, whilst contortionist Odka provides some of the truly "OMG" moments with the strange shapes she contorts her slight frame into. 

The grand finale of four stunt motorcyclists speeding past each other within a metal sphere is suitably spectacular and evokes the Victorian "Wall of Death" from the days when circuses were in their heyday.

An excellent family day out, the result of lots of hard work by all involved and if you don't catch them in Glasgow this weekend they will be heading on to Greenock after that. 



The Zulu Warriors acrobat troupe

Lucius Team motorcycle stunts
in the "Globe of Terror"


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