Circus News

Meet the Artistic Director: Kristian Kristof Chats About Flying Circus

At the last show of Flying Circus, I met with Kristian Kristof at Capital Circus of Budapest (Fővárosi Nagycirkusz). Kristof is the artistic director of The Flying Circus show and is known for his work as choreographer for the Disney movie Dumbo and also for his cigar box juggling act as a gentleman juggler, included in the Book of Guinness Records. We met to talk about the show and about his experience as artistic director. Flying Circus ran for over 22 weeks, with about 140 shows, 1500 spectators per show and more than 140 thousands spectators total. It was a huge success for the Fővárosi Nagycirkusz and for Kristian Kristof. He grew up in the classical circus world and was the artistic director of the International Circus Festival of Budapest at the Capital Circus of Budapest from 1996 to 2016.
Juggler in a tuxedo
Kristian Kristof in his juggling role

I met Kristof for the interview at the Capital Circus of Budapest. It was so beautiful to be in a stable circus in a city, so alive and full of people. I have not seen many cities that have a circus building and that can be proud of an old circus tradition. Kristof showed me the backstage area, where the artists live during the months of the show as they prepare for the stage. Behind the scenes, Kristian introduced me also to some performers from the show, and I had the opportunity to talk with the most important characters of the Flying Circus: Fumagalli and Daniel Golla.

Irene Pepe: How did you start working as a circus show director? 

Kristian Kristof: I started in Budapest right here at the Capital Circus in 2001, with the show that was titled 2001 circus Odyssey at the time. My goal was to present an alternative to a circus on a round stage rather than a circus ring, using limited quantities of animal performances and keeping the main characters of the classic circus like the clown, an aerialist, a wire walker, a strong man and also a ring master. These main characters guided us through the show. 

The main character is a man who found his way into the circus and rediscovered the happiness of life, through the impulses he received on the circus. At the end he meets with himself as a child.This story has a lot of similarities with Flying Circus that was created 18 years later.

IP: What’s your directing approach? 

KK: I think that my approach is to present a classic circus show that can deliver the right entertainment and a message about innovation and the evolution of classic circus art to the masses of audiences who are already established here in Budapest. 

In Flying Circus, basically I use a theatrical methodology to present classic circus. I had eliminated also the gaps, like in the movie world where the scenes follow each other and you really try to eliminate everything that does not support the main goal. The main goal is to be able to bring joy to people. So, for example, I eliminated the act presentations typical of the classic circus. 

I think that today people do not need to be told what they will see due to their intelligence and the speed of life and the world. So I try to link one scene into the next one and I try to merge the different circus acts.

IP: What was the inspiration for Flying Circus? You mentioned that there are some similarities with your first show as director?

KK: The inspiration was, and it is, to go to the roots of why circus is a magical place. I believe that a lot of the adults have their own memories of circus and that circus can take them back to those memories to rediscover the emotions they felt as children when they watched a clown performer or when they saw an aerialist act taking risks, maybe a juggler with their skills.

And also, these adults can perhaps introduce circus to their own children and share the excitement of their memories from their childhood by telling them “this is how I grew up” or “this was entertainment when I was at your age”.It’s basically to secure that circus arts can be received today the same way as it was a hundred years ago or in my case about 18 years ago. 

IP: What are the connections between Flying Circus and the movie Dumbo

Man holds a model airplane
Daniele Golla with the plane that replaced the elephant

KK: I was the circus choreographer for the Tim Burton movie with the freedom to create the circus scene to support the main story and the script of the movie.Some of those creations which worked well for the movie have been redone on a smaller scale, in smaller format for theFlying Circus mainly to build a reference to the Disney movie.

In Flying Circus, there are some original acts and other acts which have been created especially for the show, like the chandelier act, or like the female troop on the cake on the table. I felt that after the premier of Dumbo on March 29th, the movie generated a lot of interest towards the past of circus, from hundreds of years ago, and I wanted to offer to the public a chance to witness this type of circus in a live format.So when I was asked to give interviews about Dumbo, I could also talk about the show that is being inspired by the movie. And I called it Repülőcirkusz which in Hungarian means “airplane circus,” but it also means “flying circus.” And since I was not able to find a flying elephant, I have asked Daniele Golla to do it for me.

With Daniele we discussed about creating a real “flying elephant” by dressing up a drone. But we tried and we realized there was no need. In the show there were already enough links to the movie and the feelings and the WOW emotion I wanted to transmit were already there. 

IP: What was your challenge for Flying Circus?

KK: The circus for me is very analog and I wanted to keep the show very analog and direct. We spend too much time on our phones and computers. I’ve tried not to use video technology, so I had the screens covered. I was trying not to use laser or too many special effects to keep it as focused as possible. Also the band was removed from its normal location and moved closer to the audience and closer to the ring because I want the music to live together with the performance with a more theatrical approach.I think it’s getting more and more difficult to capture the attention, especially of the younger generation. This is very important when as director you are asked to create a show that runs for five months and with an audience made up of 70% kids.

IP: What would the audience have to feel during this show in order for you to consider it a success? 

KK: My mission is that after the show, when the audience stands up, they are filled with joy, and filled with happiness. Why these emotions are good, I leave it up to them. I’m not trying to push a certain message on them. All I would like to do is to touch them and give them a sort of pleasure they experienced when they were children. A child can be happy and excited without really knowing why. And the mission for me is to give a chance for adults to discover the child in them.

There is an opening scene with the plane that invites you to take a trip into your past and a trip into the happiness of the flying plane. This is the start of the magic. And at the very end it flies again and a voice tells you how good it was to share this with you. You can embrace these emotions away again like you did when you were a child. So, the two messages are really incorporated in the opening scene and then the closing scene. The narratives are part of the lyrics of the song that is from Dumbo. Those are the only points where you have a hidden message. At the very end, there is a sentence that really supports the importance of classic circus and the powers of what what circus has.

IP: Could you please highlight some of the performances of Flying Circus?

KK: I will definitely mention Daris and Gianni Huesca, who are better known as clownFumagalli. They are among the very best in the world and it’s a great honor to have them here. It’s also the first time they ever performed in Budapest. I had invited them in the past to take part in the International Circus Festival of Budapest but we never found the right moment to do it. But of course we adapt their act to the show. Probably the most difficult change was the language. Hungarian is not easy to learn but Fumagalli, with the help of theRing Master – who sometimes was clarifying what he was saying to the public by repeating some words- made an excellent job.

I would also mentionDaniele Golla, who is a performer with a unique act using an airplane, a model created by himself, who pretty much replaced Dumbo for me in this show.

Among the young talents, I would mentionLena Dolinskaya, recently graduated from the Kiev Academy of Variety and Circus Arts. I was allowed to create a brand new act with her and the chandelier specially for Flying Circus with the help of the Australian choreographer, Jasmine Straga.

Trio Dandy (Johnny Gasser, Yury Kreer and Kirill Ivanov) holds the world record with their Russian bar act. It is perhaps technically the strongest act in this discipline and they will be competing at the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo in 2020.

One more act, which I would really like to mention is the Mongol Circus Production by Erdene, who has re-adopted and who uses acrobats on walking globes and complex hand voltige on ball, which roots go back to Hungary, to my mother’s family, the Sallai troupe. So this discipline was invented in Hungary and I found it really important that we bring it back to Budapest. 

IP: Who has influenced you as an artistic director?

KK: I would probably not mention a single name because I was influenced by many. Certainly it had a huge importance working for Tim Burton for over a year and a half. Also collaborating with Bence Vagi the artistic director of Recirquel Company Budapest has been a huge input on my work.

IP: What are your current and future projects? 

KK: Currently, I’m working as a company manager and I take care of the international affairs of Recirquel, that is emerging very strongly. Recirquel now is currently the second most important Hungarian entity by number of performances exported abroad after the Hungarian Festival Orchestra and I’m very proud to guide Recirquel to the international scene side by side with Bence Vagi.

I am also involved with Circus Krone, where I have been the production director of the touring tent show Mandana working by the side of Bence Vagi, who was the artistic director, and where I will also perform next February at Circus Krone Bak as a juggler.

I’m currently majoring in directing physical theater and circus at Circomedia in Bristol. I started the MA to broaden my knowledge on directing. Of course, my roots are in the classic circus, but my desires is to connect the classic circus with the contemporary circus, or as I prefer to say, the theatre circus. 

With Bence Vagi, I am dreaming about creating a hub for circus professionals where we can all learn a new type of circus technique–one that serves the mission of Recirquel’s danse. Cirque danse is theater that uses the tools from contemporary dance and the tools of classic circus. Our desire is to offer an alternative here in Hungary for circus performers who like artistic performances and who share enthusiasm for what Recirquel presents.

Talking with Kristof made me appreciate the show even more, but what I found really interesting is the reflection on the relationship between classic and new circus. I never thought much about how they coexist and their influence on one another, or the different ways they communicate with the audience. But discussing with Kristof  made me realize how much they can learn from each other on many levels: from the way they market themselves to artistic direction.  

Related content: Dumbo, the Circus Angle

Feature photo of Mongol Circus Production by Erdene. All photos courtesy of Kristian Kristoff.
Irene Pepe
Communications Manager, Photographer -Italy, Hungary
Irene Pepe is a photographer and communications manager in love with circus. She currently works as AdSales communications manager for CircusTalk and sometimes as a writer. Originally from Italy, she lived in NYC, Malta, the Netherlands and in some other places in Europe before moving to Budapest, where she is based. Her love for circus started in Turin thanks to the vivid contemporary circus scene of the city, where she also started working as a photographer and communications consultant for circus companies.

Irene Pepe

Irene Pepe is a photographer and communications manager in love with circus. She currently works as AdSales communications manager for CircusTalk and sometimes as a writer. Originally from Italy, she lived in NYC, Malta, the Netherlands and in some other places in Europe before moving to Budapest, where she is based. Her love for circus started in Turin thanks to the vivid contemporary circus scene of the city, where she also started working as a photographer and communications consultant for circus companies.

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