So to continue this discussion about the circus, we went to the Winter Circus, or Cirque d’ Hiver in Paris. My tight wire teacher told me about it and we had the good sense to go. There is an actual building dedicated to the circus; it’s a 20 sided polygon with Corinthian columns at each point. Inside it has crimson curtains with a high ceiling. The seats, however, are quite uncomfortable, something that has remained constant in the theatre’s history.
According to Circopedia, it has quite the extensive history. I’ll summarize but if you want more history, check out its entry. It was built in 1852 for Louis Dejean as a winter home for his circus. It was built by City of Paris’ Chief Architect Jacques-Hittorff, responsible for redesigning Place de la Concorde and Gare de Nord. From the beginning, it had stables for 52 horses though the stables were torn down and rebuilt in its 150+ year history.
Louis Dejean decided to rename the circus Cirque Napoleon (for the Napoleon’s nephew Napoleon III). Napoleon III even inaugurated it. And on November 12, 1859, Jules Leotard first performed the flying trapeze. He also is where the word Leotard comes from because of the tight fitting outfit that he wore. (He apparently was a sex symbol for a while).
After Napoleon III’s defeat, the circus was renamed Cirque National until Dejean’s retirement. His successor was not very republican so he gave it a more neutral and current title “Cirque d’Hiver.”
Over its 150+ year history, the building passed along different owners and circus families and served different capacities, including a movie theatre and stage. A nautical ring was constructed. Eventually it passed into the hands of the Bouglione family in the 1930s who probably still own it today. However, it was not until 1998 that they decided to revive the circus season from October until March.
The show was charming. It’s cabaret style with some aerial, juggling, clowning and animal training. The show was aimed at kids but it was all the more wacky and fun for it. My favorite act was an incredible juggling tango act. A gentlemen would juggle while dancing with his partner. The Parisians seem fond of the tango since there was another tango related act. They constructed a cube like structure on stage and a man would swing around them as if they were parallel bars while tango music played. He come off the bars, dance some tango and resume his acrobatic feats on the bar. There was also a tremendous doubles sling act and awe-inspiring wheel of death.
And then there were animals. When we first came in, there was a cage constructed around the stage which threw me for a loop. Are they so concerned for their performers? How rough are Parisian audiences? But then the tigers came on and it made a lot more sense. It was splendid watching these tigers do tricks. Notably, one hopped on its back paws. There were also white horses which was moderately interesting. They would go in circles on stage.
And there was a Shetland pony (we think). What was notable about the Shetland pony was that it was brought on stage. The audience clapped and that was it. Later this trip, we would see Cinderella, a Christmas play, or a pantomime, in London. At one point, Cinderella’s coach is pulled by Shetland ponies. And the same thing happened. They came on stage, we all cooed and then it was intermission. Not that I’m complaining. More Shetland ponies in the world, the better.
Anyway, huzzah for Paris’ Winter Circus!