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Circus Series

Selected from the written reflection for the Circus Portfolio

Backstage

The circus is a psychological microcosm in which human aspirations and absurdity are symbolized by the daring of the aerialist’s flight and the indignity of the clown’s tumble. With a duck waddle gait a dwarf in outrageous attire passes an extravagantly costumed and coiffed female performer whose bared back is contoured with the richly developed muscles of an aerialist. The circus embraces with equal ease the world of the “little people” and the exceptionally beautiful and daring. In a backstage corridor of a concrete and glass amphitheater, a woman in black net stockings, silver slippers, and a red and silver sequined costume, sculpted to reveal muscled buttocks and ample bosom, rocks her infant child in an old-fashioned pram. Twenty feet away lies a train of cages quartering lions. Moments later she joins a teeterboard troupe which catapults her in a double backwards somersault to the top of a human ladder five men high.

The people of the circus are the gypsies of our time: moving frequently as an entire family, from city to city; maintaining unconventional hours; and preserving a tradition of esoteric, difficult, and potentially dangerous skills. The odor of their animals, who are of necessity always quartered nearby, permeates the feathered, spangled and brilliantly-hued costumes, creating an incongruous fusion of finery and animal stench. Chance encounters and conversations unfold in directions impossible to anticipate. I met, one quiet afternoon, a priest who conducted mass for the Catholic members of the troupe when the circus performed in his city. Years ago, he had raised bees. His current indigenous congregation consisted of longshoremen. When the circus opened, he came daily to watch again and again the same event, the lion act, and in his dark clerical attire passed freely among the exotically costumed members of the circus.

The three ringed circus bedazzles and bewilders. It is a celebratory festival which gathers together: exhibitions of splendor and pageantry; aerialists and acrobats; high-wire, trampoline and teeterboard acts; animal trainers and their performing animals including bears, tigers, elephants, lions, chimpanzees, horses, leopards, cheetahs, and dogs; showgirls and musicians; as well as dwarfs, midgets and clowns.