Few things roll in and out of a town with the speed and dexterity of a circus. It is almost as if it just appears, magically, in the night. Silently. Unnoticed. A giant tent erected by a team of fairytale characters who will remain only a little while, before trundling back out of town again under the cover of darkness. It is this mystique that surrounds the spectacle of the Big Top, that continues to lure me to the circus, even as an adult. And so yesterday, my brother and I took a step back into our childhood and spent an afternoon with the clowns and dare-devil performers of Circus Vegas.
Everything about the circus is sensuous. Smells, diverse and incongruous, mingle effortlessly together – the sweet melting sugar for candy floss, the salty deliciousness of popcorn, the strange sweetness of slightly damp sawdust and the farmyard musk of little circus ponies. Primary colours and bright lights illuminate thousands of sequins, as children wave fluorescent toys in a haze of giddy excitement. It would be so easy for it all to seem tacky – but this is the circus, so leave your inhibitions at the tarpaulin door please. This is no place for sophistication or pretension. Instead, expect cheesy music with an easy rhythm to clap along to, clowns blowing whistles and ringmasters with an exaggerated American drawl. It is wonderful in its excess and its predictability. It is the ultimate retro experience, that seems to have changed very little in decades, despite its place in a world that advances at break-neck speed.
And then there are the performers…..the stars of the ring, the glittering diamonds of the circus tent. To me this is where there is true artistry and genius. It is so close, so daring and yet almost invariably elegant. Even the mistakes are graceful and there are always mistakes, another huge part of the vintage charm the circus holds. E.E. Cummings once wrote, “Damn everything but the circus!. . .The average ‘painter’ ‘sculptor’ ‘poet’ ‘composer’ ‘playwright’ is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown’s mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.” Given that it is more than thirty years since my first circus experience, I of course remember when exotic animals took centre stage but I find the experience loses nothing and gains everything from their general omission in recent years. Because it is the tightrope walkers, the acrobats, the motorcycle riders in a wheel of death, and the fire jugglers that make the circus a really special afternoon’s entertainment. Their form and grace, their sense of timing, their complete lack of fear amuses and amazes me every time.
I mean seriously – how long must it take to perfect tiptoeing across a tightrope? It is that combination of practice and performance, talent and showmanship, concentration and charisma that will see me (and most likely my brother) remain fans of the magic of the Big Top throughout our lifetime.
So with or without a child to accompany you, the next time a red, white and blue tent appears to rise from the ashes of your town, pop in through the enchanted canvas door, suspend your disbelief and enjoy some true theatre from a ringside seat. Have a great day and look out for the clowns in your coffee xoxo