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Monday, October 17, 2011

Strangest Circuses in The World

Forget any fear of circus clowns. The strangest shows on earth feature backflipping cats, race-car stuntmen, and burlesque puppeteers.
At London’s Hoxton Hall, acrobats scamper up each other’s shoulders to form a pyramid—although it hardly looks human. The performers are unrecognizable beneath elaborate ant costumes complete with antennae and googly eyes.

Circuses have always been a bit offbeat, but they’ve morphed well beyond the classic three-ring spectacle of clowns and animal tamers. Today’s strangest circuses are small and innovative. Some, like the Insect Circus, push the boundaries by incorporating burlesque or performance art, while others are reviving near-extinct sideshow traditions for a new generation.

“Circuses were once the biggest shows in town,” says Marc Hartzman, author of American Sideshow. “People didn’t have the same mediums of entertainment that we have today.” As audience interest drifted in the 1970s, circuses began adapting, particularly in the U.K., the U.S., France, Canada, and Australia.

A painter by trade, Mark Copeland founded the U.K.-based Insect Circus in 2002, designing fantastical costumes for the acrobatic “ants,” a winged trapeze duo that go by the names of Baron and Baroness Flutterby, and others. He is especially proud of a stag beetle shell worn by three performers. This lumbering six-legged “insect” takes on a matador in an act that resembles a Spanish bullfight.

Still other circuses get their strange factor from sideshow elements like sword-swallowers and actual insects. Adam G. Gertsacov, creator of Acme Miniature Flea Circus, practices a craft that dates back to the late 1800s. After graduating from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he wandered from circus to circus until he got some career-changing advice. Legendary clown Avner Eisenberg told him to “focus on the fleas,” and Gertsacov hasn’t wavered since. He trains 12 fleas at a time to perform tricks like being shot out of a mini cannon into a Hula-Hoop dubbed “the hoop of death.”

For truly death-defying stunts, look to Delhi, India, where the Diamond Maruti Car Circus has become infamous for performing while hanging out of speeding vehicles. For 25 cents, you can peer over the edge of a pit and watch performers on motorcycles and in cars zoom in circles as they grab hands and stand up on their seats—an unbelievable performance that also qualifies as one of the

Even in an age of entertainment overload, the world’s strangest circuses share the ability to keep you on the edge of your seat. Here’s a sneak peek at their shows.

The Mill by Ockham’s Razor, England

This circus is built around one of mankind’s most humble yet revolutionary inventions: the wheel. Suspended from a 23-foot-high rig, performers execute aerial stunts around a large wood and metal wheel. Only five aerialists manage to keep this prop in constant motion throughout the entire performance.

Strange Factor: A high-flying human-scale hamster wheel, suspended from the ceiling by only rope. 

Moscow Cat Circus, Moscow

Any owner will admit that cats can be fussy and difficult to train. But with no more than kind words and gentle gestures, veteran circus performer Yuri Kuklachev coaxes his cats into tricks ranging from handstands to aerial acrobatics. It’s a talent his oldest son—now his sidekick—has inherited.Strange Factor: Kuklachev’s cats perform alongside human mimes in variety shows including The Nutcracker and Cats from Outer Space.

Sideshows by the Seashore, Coney Island, New York

Sideshows highlighting freakish abilities used to be everyday entertainment. But now Coney Island amusement park is the only venue in America where you can experience a traditional 10-in-1 circus sideshow. It’s a squeamish throwback that’s been entertaining crowds since 1985 and fits in well with Coney Island’s reputation for the outrageous.
Strange Factor: A snake charmer named Serpentina who performs with a 15-foot albino Burmese python.

Circus Monoxide, Australia

Traditional aerial and juggling acts may be part of the lineup, but each show also comes with an unconventional theme that provokes audience members. (Superb & Broken dramatized the search for passion and meaning in everyday life through three characters, including a neat freak and a father who dreams of donning red sequins.) A live band plays throughout the show, building up the anticipation for stunts like performers being catapulted out of a bus.Strange Factor: A bathtub act during which a female aerialist plunges in and out of the water.

Diamond Maruti Car Circus, Delhi, India

So much for fastening a seat belt—these stuntmen perform tricks while hanging out of speeding vehicles. For the ticket price of 10 rupees (25 cents), you can watch as the cars race around in a pit accompanied by motorcycles. The show promises a view so close that you could give the performers a high five.
Strange Factor: An act called “The Wall of Death,” in which performers race their motorcycles and cars, stand up on their seats, and hold hands with each other.

007, San Francisco

The international man of mystery has run off to join the circus—at least that’s what this troupe would have you believe. With high-flying acts and futuristic dancers, James Bond and his Bond Girls put on a campy show complete with a hero-versus-villain plot that entails aerial stunts and theatrical fights.Strange Factor: Aerial Bond girl dance sequences, accompanied by psychedelic lights, music, and disco ball.

Acme Miniature Flea Circus, New York

Inspired by Hubert’s Flea Circus in Times Square, which closed in 1957, Adam Gertsacov pieced together the tricks of the flea trade from his circus mentors. The Acme Miniature Flea Circus’s bloodsucking insects have tumbled their way through four different countries and 38 states since the mid-1990s. The only thing Gertsacov asks from his audience? No dogs allowed.
Strange Factor: Two fleas race to a finish line while pulling a chariot. Other less fortunate fleas are shot out of a mini cannon into a Hula-Hoop called the “hoop of death.”

La Soirée, London

Filled with bizarre acts, La Soirée is a prime example of a contemporized variety show that borrows from circus, burlesque, and vaudeville traditions. Look for roller skaters doing tricks, rocker stuntmen, and puppeteers whose decidedly adult work has been described as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert meets Moulin Rouge as written by Pedro Almodóvar.Strange Factor: An opera-singing drag queen named Le Gateau Chocolat belts out renditions of everything from pop-rock to opera.

The Insect Circus, England

In 2002, Mark Copeland stumbled upon a book about circuses and began working on paintings that played with scale, eventually creating a series in which insects took over the roles of circus animals. And like that, the idea of a real creepy-crawly circus was born. The 10 circus members wear elaborate insect costumes for classic hat tricks, air stunts, and comedic numbers.
Strange Factor: A wasp tamer performs with two life-size wasps. Each wasp balances on a high wire and jumps through hoops.

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