Prime Edition

Antonia Filmer

Moon Songs and Shadows from a Travelling Circus

Many children want to run away and join a circus at some stage, now-days it is a much more an acceptable career. Today, British circuses do not include any dangerous animals, as big cats and elephants are forbidden; following the precedent set from Europe circus is regarded as much more of a creative and artistic profession. This is certainly true of the circus that Nell and Toti Gifford have created, researching and rehearsing an international troupe of uniquely talented artistes with an imaginative repertoire.

Although, Giffords started as a homemade troupe with a small following it is now Britain's most inspirational circus, professional and brilliantly choreographed with seats selling out to a largely middle class audience throughout the season. They travel across the south of England from the beginning of May till the end of September, with between seven and 16 shows in 13 different locations.

The excitement as the circus caravan draws into country villages is palpable, the circular big top with a black lining is put up by the team and the artistes alike, it is a real team effort. Parked all around are the liveried wagons and buses — the homes of the artists, circus shops, stalls and restaurants. Usherettes in leotards, bellboy jackets and fishnet tights show you to your seat around the traditional sawdust arena.

Giffords Circus has had a themed performance for the past fourteen years, this year the theme is Moon Songs with all the mysteries and emotions the moon evokes in us. The story is told through the dream of two young Ethiopian boys who dream of joining a travelling circus, they send their wish to the faraway moon, their dream becomes reality as today they are the extraordinary jugglers — Bibi and Bichu.

The Scottish clown Tweedy is almost a trademark of Giffords and as ubiquitous as he is ridiculous throughout the show, characterized by actually being fired out of a homemade canon for a distance of about 40 feet.

The magician Maximilliano Stia from Argentina doubles up as the ringmaster, his theatrical magic, shadow puppetry, fire-eating and the strange head swopping act performed on his female accomplice are intriguing; his bad jokes aimed at the little person David Pillukat (clown and wizard on the diabolo), who looks very like Matt Damon, are in his words "cheap entertainment".

Bibi and Bichu appear with their youth incarnations in fluorescent "black tie" attire and juggle their way through a session called Destination Moonlight but really it is a satire of Interstellar. Kata Kiss, a stunning Hungarian gymnast contortionist with 15 national triumphs in World and European Championships to her name, performs with multiple golden hoops or tumbling and spinning from a fishing net suspended 30 feet above the ground, her costumes are feminine, her agility and balance defies description.

The Giffords Carousel, three grey Andalusian dancing horses ridden by Dany Cesar and his equestrians from Barcelona are suitably decked out as fairground carousel characters in florally embellished capes, hats and saddlecloths; Nell Gifford, a superb and fearless horsewoman prances in their midst on a jet black Friesian stallion, an ex-undertakers carriage horse; Hades and Griffin, the moon terrier dogs join in other horsey acts including riding pillion behind a "bear" on horseback.

The whole show is punctuated by moon songs through the ages; a show full of humour, talent, imagination and surprises. The luminous moon image recites at the end of the show “Anything is possible when you wish upon the moon” and so it was for Bibi and Bichu.

The final act is Mrs Gifford's favourite, an acrobat troupe of twelve from Addis Ababa with ages ranging from 11 to 25 years (the circus have their own travelling tutor), they enter in multi-coloured satin hats resembling contemporary sculpture by Philip Treacy, both boys are girls are strong and unnaturally bendy, athletic but always elegant, they form human pyramids tossing each other into the air, synchronised sky diving and tumbling back to earth.

The whole show is magical, the costumes, the music, Magda the gipsy fortune teller with her crystal ball and eerie theme tune all add up to a fantastic expression of creative endeavour.

In the programme there is a page of mesmerising moon facts... it would take 8.6 years to walk, at 3mph, the 2,40,000 from earth to the Moon and the 12 men who walked on the moon collected rocks that weighed 842 pounds!

The whole show is punctuated by moon songs through the ages from Henry Mancini to Ozzy Osbourne; a show full of humour, talent, imagination and surprises. The luminous moon image, that presides over the orchestra, recites at the end of the show "Anything is possible when you wish upon the moon" and so it was for Bibi and Bichu.

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