Europe Travel News

Join the circus in Paris

The circus has found new life in the 21st century, and Paris is a central hub for the newest wave of old entertainment. The animals acrobats and clown acts of the modern era may just inject a little wonder into a thoroughly cosmopolitan tour of France's capital. 

A second act
Circus acts these days are referred to as "new circus" or "nouveau cirque." The term, first given in the 1960s, refers to the revitalization of the circus after years of decline. 

The height of circus performance was the tail end of the 19th century, with the entertainment on par with Hollywood and sports in terms of national interest, according to The New York TImes. However, cinema and television chipped away at the circus' prestige. The acts became dated, then campy, and eventually the big tent was hanging by a thread. 

New circuses came about in the latter half of the 20th century, injecting artistic license into the crasser aspects of the performance, replacing animal tricks and goofy costumes with concept performances and modern soundtracks - most recognizably embodied in Quebec-based Cirque du Soleil. Europe has embraced the art, but in the U.S., the rough-and-tumble commercialist legacy of P.T. Barnum has left many of the old stereotypes about the circus firmly entrenched in American minds. 

Parisian play
France's capital is one of the best places to get a taste of the new circus phenomenon. There are some 450 troupes in France and approximately 600 schools dedicated to teaching circus performance skills. Paris can be considered the birthplace of that sprawling empire - it was there in 1974 that the first two circus schools in all of Western Europe opened.

Today, there are plenty of places to see the circus in Paris. Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione - or the Winter Circus - has been housed in the 151-year-old Cirque d'Hiver Hall. According to Fodor's, the troupe is a rowdy group of acrobats, jugglers, tigers and house cats that leap through fire. 

Cirque National Alexis Gruss was founded in 1854, and features more old-fashioned circus acts, among them horseback riders, trapeze artists and an army of jugglers. Performances run October through mid-March. This year's theme is dedicated to theater actress Silvia Monfort, who joined with Alexis Gruss to create the first circus school in France.

Finally, there is Theatre Equestre Zingaro, which, according to Frommer's, boasts France's premier horse whisperer. The theater troupe is actually part of a gypsy caravan, and the horse whisperer's unique performance is an inspired mix of Japanese Butoh dance, shamanism and Gypsy music.

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