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I once went to see Cirque do Soleil and a splendid and spectacular show it was, the performers were incredible and made a lasting impression. The circus that has recently come to Canto Verde has left an impression too but not in quite the same way.
Entering the big top, I was relieved to see the seating arrangements were plastic chairs spaced out on the sand. Last time the circus was in the village we had balanced precariously on wooden planking, on a seriously dodgy scaffolding structure, which alone would have had been enough to have had the circus closed on health and safety grounds. There would be plenty of health and safety risks in the coming performance though.
While we waited for the show to start we were deafened by the music blaring from a loudspeaker, set right at the edge of a row of chairs, the young lad who was sitting beside the speaker seemed oblivious to the noise, only covering his ears when one of the circus performers grabbed the microphone and yelled above the sound of the pulsating music that the show was about to start. A few minutes later came another announcement, then another. Finally half an hour later with all the seats filled, the show began.
First out was a man who we were assured would do something amazing with broken glass. The artist himself seemed a little unsure of himself, as though he was there under duress and his uncertain manner caused a ripple of nervous laughter to run through the audience. He carried a piece of plastic sacking into the middle of the small arena, laid it out and proceeded to break a couple of bottles into small pieces, when he was satisfied he stood on the broken glass in his bare feet, causing gasps and screams from the crowd followed by uproarious laughter as he removed his shirt to bare his wiry form, while the ring master declared the man to be a fine specimen of manhood. For his next trick he lay on his back on the glass and a young lad was coaxed from the audience to walk across his chest, more screams mixed with laughter.
The next act was the human dragon, a down right dangerous act performed by a young man who I suspect of having a death wish. He came through the curtains at the back of the stage, his assistant seemed reluctant to come out, finally she shot through the curtain having received a shove in the back. She was holding two sticks and a bottle of fuel, I don’t know what the fuel was but it stank like petrol. The tent had smelled slightly of urine, now as the black smoke poured from the sticks, the smell of urine was obliterated by the smell of burning fuel. The young man ran the sticks up and down his arms, then tried but mostly failed to do a spot of fire eating, while the compere told us that what he was trying to do was very difficult and that is he succeeded he would deserve a huge round of applause. The young man then took a mouthful of the fuel and breathed out some huge flames while I prayed we were not about to watch a human BBQ. My neighbour turned to me and asked how we would get out if the whole lot went up, good question. I think we were all relieved when his act came to an end.
When the smoke cleared a clown routine followed, as the gag was played out the audience whooped and hollered, but the biggest laugh was gained inadvertently by one of the village women, when she came to the entrance of the big top and shouted across the performers to her daughter sitting right on the other side of the ring “Where’s the door key Conseição?” The clowns and audience turned as one to look at the daughter, who was by now burning with embarrassment and trying to hide behind the shoulder of her friend. “Well Conseição, where’s that key?” shouted the clown, more raucous laughter.
Out came the scantily clad dancing girls. One was as skinny as they come and barely in her teens, the other was the fireman’s assistant, larger in every respect, older and apparently as reluctant to be there for this act as she had been for her previous outing. As the young girl shimmied and shook, the older woman would do a little turn, give a little wiggle and then laugh her self silly. I found her enchanting and whether it was for her, or the young girl, the audience yelled and whistled their appreciation.
Back came the death wish man, this time sticking steak knives up his nose, four in each nostril right up to the handles, quite revolting, it was all I could do not to throw up and I, like a lot of other people in the audience passed this act looking at the floor.
A young girl did a very brief trapeze act, dangling from a round metal contraption that looked like it was borrowed from something else. My daughter used to do trapeze (and very good she was too), so I can safely say that while the apparatus may have been unorthodox, at least the girls poses were authentic.
Then came what was for many, the highlight of the show. The ring master dressed up in a mini skirt, high heels and a long lilac wig. He pranced around the ring, miming to a song about a love sick “lady” abandoned by a man for whom she sings “Roderio, Roderio, Roderio whew!!!” This well known act is always greeted with raucous cheers from the crowd, especially when the “lady” approaches male members of the audience, stroking their chests, rubbing their heads or sitting on their laps.
Another dance act, this time by two pubescent girls doing a dance that is popular in the clubs of Rio known as the Creu. I’m no prude but I do have a problem with this overtly sexual dance, especially when performed by pubescent girls in next to no clothing. the girls were cheered and clapped, but there were also people who looked on disapprovingly, not necessarily because they felt the girls were being exploited, which was my problem with the act, some people I spoke to later said they didn’t like the dancing because they felt the girls themselves were immoral.
Next up a comedy routine, then a young lad did a bit of whip cracking followed by a rather sad balancing act, the circus master said that was it, there was a brief round of applause followed by a mass stampede for the exit.
A week on and the circus is still here, giving performances nightly. Neu has been taking our son regularly but I made them promise to sit near the exit, just in case the fire man does his act again. I haven’t been back, once was enough for me.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2011

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