Circus Maxims


November 23, 2011 | BY Hong Kong Tatler


What do you think of immediately when I mention the word ‘circus’? The first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people are big tops, tigers, elephants, clowns, and ringmasters in red jackets and top hats. But increasingly, due to rising concerns over animal rights, the Barnum-and-Bailey type of circus act is becoming outmoded. Instead, many contemporary circuses are following the trend set by world-renowned production company Cirque du Soleil, who’ve redefined the circus with its contemporary spin, that gives the circus a theme; storyline; original scores; and incorporates elements from many different disciplines of performing arts such as dance, opera and theatre.

Artwork from Fayston Elementary Art

Recently, I went to Wuqiao, the birthplace of Chinese acrobatics/circus acts, to attend the 13th International Wuqiao Circus Festival where I had the chance to get up close and personal with a couple of performers. What initially was meant to be a casual conversation turned into flashes of inspiration for me and I will share with you a few key lessons that I've learned from them.

Artwork from Fayston Elementary Art

Inna, the glamorous Russian Gwyneth Paltrow

Inna performs Flash Change of Dresses with her husband, who she describes as a very talented but not a disciplined person, and points to his Spanish roots as the cause. Inna is a young beautiful blond Russian who was a former ballerina. She reminds me of Gwyneth Paltrow, only a bit more glam.

To succeed, everyone knows that discipline is essential, but those who succeed are those who practice this. Because of her Russian ballerina training, Inna practices her act daily; a six-minute show on stage takes two hours to prepare. Her show comprises of flash changing 12 different handmade dresses she designed. She said that one day when she retires, she would like to go into high-end costume-making.

Giving it her all
Inna gives her all each time she’s on stage even when she is tired or if she is sick because, in her words: “if you give good energy, you get good energy”.

Dong Dong, the Chinese Angel

Artwork from Fayston Elementary Art

Never give up
The 11-years-old boy Dong Dong made an impression on me and made me leave a piece of my heart in Shijiazhuang. Although he is only 11, he looks about five-years-old. He is skinny and short and has eyes that curve like two little rainbows. Dong Dong is in an act with 10 other little boys called Hand Juggling on Monocycles. Since he is rather small and young, he sits on the top of the pyramid in his performance. During rehearsals one time he accidentally fell and tore the tendon from his ankle. When I asked him whether it hurt, Dong Dong gave me the most angelic smile and said yes. And when I asked him whether he would perform tonight. He again gave me that sweet smile and said of course. It had just never crossed his mind that he would not perform. He then went on to explain to me that he had practiced for so long and that performing acrobatics is fun and shared how he always looked forward to the applause from the audience and would not want to disappoint his fellow troupe members by not performing.

Robbie, the All American Marshmallow Man

The last person I met is someone who I followed around for two days. Robbie is around 300 pounds, bald, bespectacled and looks like a cartoon character. Seeing him makes me smile. Robbie is a balloon artist. You name what you want, and abracadabra, it's there - in balloon form!

Details of seaworld 2.jpg

All in the details
Robbie's favourite expression is "that's what gets me the big bucks, it's all in the details". When making a potted plant, he added water to the balloon vase. When making a rabbit, he added whiskers. When making a teddy bear, he added eyes. It's always a little more than what you would normally get from other balloon artists.

Seaworld by Robbie.jpg

Giving back
When I got home, I decided to visit his website. I found a donation tab that took me by surprise, I thought he owned a commercial company and didn't know it's a non-profit. But as it turned out, under the donation tab, he asks people to email him with their cause and from there he will see whether he can help out with his skills.

I have always loved the circus and watching acrobatics, and this behind-the-scene experience has made me yearn for more. I look forward to attending forthcoming ones in France and Monaco in January 2012.

I hope to see you there as well!