“Damn everything but the circus!” said E.E. Cummings one day, clearly fed up with his literary life. “The average ‘painter’ ‘sculptor’ ‘poet’ ‘composer’ ‘playwright’ is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown’s mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.”
Ol’ Edward Estlin was obviously having a bad day when he said that, but I do understand his jealousy of circus performers a little. Not because I particularly want to tame lions or leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse (trust me, I REALLY don’t want to do that – leotards are not my friend) but because the circus has no purpose other than to entertain. I’ve always loved that about the circus, especially when I see the jugglers.
Jugglers exist in culture for no reason other than to delight a crowd. They’re a frivolity, a decadent timewaster, with records as far back as Ancient Egypt that show how long they’ve been performing to amuse. There was a brief moment after the fall of the Roman Empire when they were seen for the work shirkers they were and the profession declined, but it never went away entirely. Jugglers just got relegated from the royal court to the marketplace as religious clerics began accusing them of witchcraft and corrupt morals, and kings’ jesters stuck to poetry and other forms of light entertainment lest they fall out of royal favour too.
And there the dastardly jugglers stayed, until the 18th century when a guy called Philip Astley, the “father of the modern circus” had the foresight to include juggling acts in with clownery and lion tamery and acrobatics. Thank god he did. Can you imagine a circus without spinning plates? Actually, I can. Bad example.
Anyway – had jugglers not been picked up by Astley they may have disappeared entirely and that would have been a huge tragedy, because then I would never have discovered the group of performers I discovered tonight…which is what this rambling piece is really all about.
If you haven’t heard of Gandini Juggling then you really need to get on it. Think Cirque du Soleil after a one night stand with The Rocky Horror Picture show. It’s a sexy, transgressive mix of circus, dance, theatre sports and performance art that provokes, stimulates and makes me want to run away and join them.
Here’s the video of their latest show CLØWNS & QUEENS so you can see for yourself. And yes, before you ask, they are dildos they’re balancing on their faces. Guess the morality police of the Middle Ages were right all along.
Images taken from http://clownsandqueens.wordpress.com/gallery/