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a blog by Chris Barrow

Letters from a Perfect Imperfectionist: The circus

There are performing poodles who jump through rings of fire, lion tamers who hold their fierce captives at bay, uni-cycling jugglers who manage to keep their bodies balanced and all the balls in the air, trapeze artists and tight-rope walkers who nervelessly defy gravity – then, of course, the clowns; some happy, some sad, dedicated to one simple goal – to make you smile.

Together, they suspend disbelief and create moments of unforgettable magic.

There are different qualities, different standards of performance and behaviour, even in the circus world.

Some are cheap and rather nasty.

In the late 1950’s I grew up in Ashton under Lyne, Manchester in a very working class community that looked exactly like those old opening sequences from Coronation Street – row after row of terraced houses and thick chimney smoke mixing with the cold air to produce Autumnal smogs.

There was a ‘croft’ at the back of my grandparents house (an open space of land, covered in a loose black gravel and surrounded by high red-brick factory walls) that was the only play area for children.

Every year, around October, the travelling circus and fair would arrive – looking back, Romany families who made their living touring the mills towns of of the North West.

The family would multi-task (the lady with the poodles was also the trapeze artist, the lion tamer doubled as a clown, the strong man was the horse trainer, the sons would manage the dodgems and the twirlers, looking for local girls to flirt with and steal a kiss and a grope).

The standards were poor (the lions were mangy and the horses old).

The ringmaster clearly enjoyed a pie, a pint and a fag but no longer loved his job.

There were rumours of cruelty and starvation.

But we turned out in numbers every year, to be transported for one evening into a world outside the dark satanic mills in which we carved out a life that was comfortable but humble by today’s standards.

In those days, we tolerated what we saw because we had no other frame of reference and nothing much else to do on those dark nights (no internet, no TV, no restaurants, no malls – just the pub, the cinema or the church, depending on your anaesthetic preference).

Nowadays, such tatty troupes would be stopped by the civil authorities and abandoned by their potential audiences, who would rather go out for a franchised pizza experience and sit the kids in the corner with their iPads.

Nowadays, more of us expect Cirque du Soleil and are prepared to shop around, change, complain and write damning reviews online if we don’t get it.

We expect to be amazed, entertained, transmogrified by our experience into believing in the impossible. To have our faith in human potential restored, to have the hope of a better future for mankind packaged, gift-wrapped and delivered with a symphony of sound and light and a half-time Cornetto.

We want all the fun of the fair and a world-class performance for our hard-earned money.


Tell me this:

what is it like under your Big Top?

does your mission/vision statement read like this?

Cirque du Soleil was built on values and deep convictions which rest on a foundation of audacity, creativity, imagination and our people: the backbone of our success.

Cirque du Soleil places creativity at the core of all its endeavours so as to ensure limitless possibilities. This is why the creative challenge is of the utmost importance with each new business opportunity, whether it is a show or any other creative activity.

Cirque du Soleil dream is also an integral part of its philosophy: To take the adventure further, step beyond its dreams and, above all, believe that our people are the engine of our enterprise.

Cirque du Soleil offers its artists and creators the necessary freedom to imagine their most incredible dreams and bring them to life.

The International Head Office, located in Montreal, wishes to be an international laboratory of creativity, where our world’s best creative minds, craftsmen, experts on various domains and performers can collaborate on creative projects. By assuming the roles of catalyst and unifier, Cirque du Soleil is able to reinvent itself with each new chapter of its history.

Ultimately, would any kid run away from home and seek their fortune by joining your circus?

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