The circus comes to town at the Via delle Tagliate in Lucca. (Tagliate means cut down and this was the area outside the city walls where trees were cut down to provide a clear vision of the enemy from the walls behind in case of attack. Now it’s the area in Lucca where fairgrounds, exhibitions and circuses spring up.)
We enjoy going to circuses and have done ever since the days of Billy Smart and Bertram Mills. Last year at Florence we attended one of the most famous of Italian circuses, Moira Orfei’s, who, alas, is no more with us (She died 15th November last year).. Who was Moira? She was showgirl, circus artiste, actress and friend of that great film raconteur of the circus, Frederico Fellini, and a truly great exponent of stylish Italian kitsch with her highly lacquered looks and (especially) her hair style.
The Late Moira Orfei and Moira with Fellini)
If it’s stated that all of these circuses coming to Lucca have animal performers then an inconsiderable lot my readers would say ‘shame for attending’ as, indeed, many regarding the Millennium circus, coordinated by Roberto Cola Prin and his family, which we visited last night, have already written in the circus Facebook page. That circus, too, has suffered at least two recent attacks from animal rights activists who graffitied slogans on the Big Top.
On December 28th last year animal activists invaded Moira Orfei’s circus and ‘freed’ a hippo which promptly ran into the main road outside the circus and was run over and killed. The car was totally wrecked but the driver managed to survive without too serious injuries.
Yet, whereas such animal circuses have been banned from practically all the London circuses we’ve attended for several years they still survive in Italy, and with a vengeance. Certainly to see some of these animals parading, walking, galloping and even hopping around the circus ground attracts the Luccan families and, especially their children, in droves.
The circus-master reassured the capacity audience last night that if animals were badly treated they would run a mile away from their trainers. (They couldn’t, anyway, since they are all securely behind bars or in pens). All I want to note here is that animals looked very well looked after, and during the interval I was able to see their living arrangements which seemed adequate.
I leave the reader to decide on the wisdom of allowing giraffes twenty feet high, white lionesses, Tibetan yaks, Arabian dromedaries, ostriches, lamas, African zebus, zebras, and Aussie joeys to enter the confines of Lucca city authority.
Of course, the millennium circus is not just about animals. The juggling acts were beautifully choreographed and the flying young couples on the trapeze were sensational delivering even a ‘triplo salto mortale’ (triple mortal jump – though it could hardly have been mortal if they survived to receive the enthusiastic applause.)
The circus, in a form which does not and should not cause offence to anyone, must be allowed to survive in some shape – it is, indeed, one of humankind’s most ancient entertainments. Exotic beasts were paraded in Rome’s Colosseum (now the second most visited world heritage site after the Great Wall of China) and lions were regrettably not unknown to the early Christians. Dancing bears still flourished in Dickensian times and the whole theme of the clown with those hidden tears behind the make-up has given rise to one of the world’s greatest verismo operas (‘Vesti la Giubba’ etc.).
The circus has inspired such great artists as Toulouse Lautrec and Degas and has been the staple diet of books loved by an earlier generation of would-be-family-escapee children. For me the circus is inescapably connected to that inspirational director, Frederico Fellini. After all life is a balancing act as tough as that practised by any trapeze artists and behind our own precious pretensions we are all clowns at heart…
(Trapeze artistes by Toulouse-Lautrec)
Anyway the last show if you, your children or the child within you wishes to capture the circus at Lucca is this Monday at 5.30 PM.