A new initiative to transform circus in Britain threatens to strip the Big Top of its intoxicating magic.
I gasped, I laughed, I howled, I cried. Last week, the National Centre for Circus Arts was launched by culture minister Ed Vaizey, promising to transform circus in Britain. But the trapeze artists that opened the show didn’t swing in a Big Top, but in a converted warehouse in Hoxton, London’s cutting-edge, art-galleried East End. There wasn’t a bulbous red nose or speck of sawdust in sight. And the party food wasn’t candyfloss, but croissants.
This is new circus – sanitised, safe, publicly subsidised. It brands itself as the future of this two century-old art, yet looks enviously back to the fantastical spectacle and physical prowess of the past. But that past was not present at the launch. Not a single traditional tented-circus proprietor was invited.
Yet tented circuses are the soul of Britain’s circus industry, with around 40 still touring the country. For a few nights, village greens, muddy fields and abandoned car parks on the edge of our small towns are transformed into magical, exotic worlds. Each week during the winter, more people queue up to see the custard-pie clowns, liberty horses and the Globe of Death at Zippos Circus than can fill the Royal Albert Hall.
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