Yesterday, Shelley and I made our return voyage from Monte Carlo where I was witness to four nights of the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. Go ahead, say I’m “over the top,” but the collection of acts was simply the finest group of circus artists and performers ever to be assembled under a big top in one place at one time. They constituted an extraordinary group of what was called “classical” or “traditional” circus.
This is the fortieth anniversary of a glorious festival, and the committee, consisting of Dr. Frere, Urs Pils (German Circus Krone), and Princess Stéphanie of Monaco (President of the Festival and Jury), among several others, was determined to bring the best acts in the world and have each of them perform in one ring over two nights. (The Festival actually goes on for eight days more, but after the fourth performance there was a celebratory dinner and a day of rest).
Twenty-four of the twenty-eight acts had previously been winners (some of them multiple times) of the Gold, Silver, or Bronze Clown, the circus equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars.
To have them assembled in one place at one time was akin to a religious experience for some circus fans. (Perhaps, that’s why I used the word “witness” in the preceding paragraph!) The festival is underwritten by the Palais de Monaco in a tent that seats 4,000+ audience members and is promoted year-round as part of the of the culture of the Principality of Monaco. No expense is spared.
The pre-festival cocktail party, the Circus Director’s Luncheon at the Hotel Hermitage, and the Festival Dinner are by invitation only. I was honored to attend all three, Shelley, two. Princess Stéphanie hosted all three events. We were invited to sit at her table along with Pauline Ducruet (Princess Stéphanie’s daughter), Marie-Jose Knie (a member of the Swiss Familie Knie Circus), Alexis Gruss (of the French Le Cirque Gruss Ancien), Flavio Togni (of the Italian Circo Americano), and Martin Lacey Jr. (Gold Clown winning trainer of large cats and star of Circus Krone). It was a thrill. Alexis is a long-standing friend of mine (and, I should add, once directed none other than Big Apple Circus’ own Artistic Director, Guillaume Dufresnoy). What an honor!
There were many memorable highlights under the big top as well:
Bello Nock, who won a Gold Clown some years ago, on his second night, was outstanding. (There were a variety of reasons, not his doing, that he was not his usual superb self on his first night.)
Desire of Flight, who were booked and contracted at BAC by Guillaume, got a well-deserved and very loud, standing ovation.
Alexis Gruss and Flavio Togni were the class of the festival with their horses already safe in the stable by the time the audience had finished their ovation.
Alexis Gruss and his 6 stallion “maypole.”
The Sokolov Troupe. In their first incarnation we knew them (in two different BAC seasons) as Kovgar Troupe. Sokolov is the second generation. Their act is a fun tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with his music and costumes from the 18th century. Great tricks and super audience response.
Willer Niccolodi, the unlikely ventriloquist, fresh from his appearance at Circus Knie and BAC, filled the tent with peals of laughter.
Both the men’s and women’s Acrobatic Troupes of the “National Circus of China” were outstanding. (I’m not so sure that there is a such-named troupe except for one to prepare for festivals … drawn from several other groups around their nation.)
Another memorable routine was performed by the hand-to-hand acrobats, Scherbak and Popov, Gold Clown winners from the Ukraine.
The Caselly Family elephants (African, no less—known to be more difficult to train than their “cousins” the Asians) were superb.
Laura Miller and her aquatic aerial ring was unique.
Encho, the hand-balancing strongman, with whom I had the privilege to work at Circus Sarasota, was most memorable.
And several more …
I was especially pleased to be in the company of Mary Jane Brock, Big Apple Circus Vice Chair, and her husband, Charley, along with five of her friends, from school and early professional days.
It was a thrilling four days, one that reinforced the Big Apple Circus’s vitality and vision as an organization.