November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Circus Life

Geraint Lewis photo

 A World That Sits on Sawdust

by Beth Timmins

Writer in Residence, Gifford’s Circus

A world that sits on sawdust,
Songs and cries and cheer.
Joy revolving round the ring
Watch in wonder, it’s here!

Beneath the twinkling tent you see
Magic under starlit sky,
It works it’s spell on all who tell
Of Circus; so strong the tie.

A world that sits on sawdust
The Big Top hides it’s secret,
Treasure it, as in the end,
It’s the ring that keeps it.

The rhythms of a poem remind me of those of a Circus; one moment tears can flood from your eyes while watching white doves fly around the ring, while in another, you’ll be laughing uncontrollably at the Circus clown. These moments by design are interwoven perfectly to empower one another, thus creating this most mysterious of art forms.

  Gem Hall photo

Nell Gifford performing at Gifford’s Circus.

We’ve now had the last show of the 2011 season. Each act performed, the violins played their melodies, the actors spoke their words and the audience roared applause for the final time this summer as Gifford’s Circus closed it’s blue green velvet curtains on “War & Peace at the Circus”. Gifford’s Circus was created by Nell and Toti Gifford in 2000. They began it from scratch; tent, horses, wagons, acts and all the other things that make up a Circus had to be made. It’s amazing to see it now, bringing that Circus sparkle to everyone who sees the show.

Few places brim with as much inspiration as a Circus. Everywhere you look, whether at the majestic Russian Cossack riding a pitch black gelding, or at the balletic aerialist rolling from ribbons of silk, there is always something to indulge your imagination. But with the beauty and glamour of the costumes and thrill of performing, comes the hardship of a nomadic life on the road, with days spent moving everything from the heavy seating boards to the canvas tents themselves.

Gem Hall Photo

Juggling with fire.

And, it’s not as if the Circus acts themselves are without an element of danger. In fact, some Circus artists have the most dangerous jobs in the world. The Ethiopian juggler Bichu, for example, burnt his eye while juggling with fire, but never gave up his act. Circus artists risk their lives everyday for that feeling of being in the centre of the ring, stunning viewers with inimitable skills. But their reason for joining the Circus is not simply the enjoyment in performance. It is the affect, every Circus artist I’ve spoken with agrees, that their acts have on the audience.

Gem Hall Photo

Tweedy the clown.

For Tweedy the clown, his purpose is to be “a real life cartoon,” and he is elated seeing the audience laugh. Pat and Kate Bradford delight in showing the audience something they have never before seen − an original, amazing hand-balancing, tap-dancing routine. It’s the audience’s enjoyment that keeps the Circus performers going through flooding rains and summer heat. Olivier, a Parisian mime, began his peforming career teaching disabled children physial expression.

Claire, one of the Parisians in the Circus band, says “the stars are our Big Top.” It feels that way late at night sitting around a fire listening to the many accents from exotic lands mixing in the air, while tent lights twinkle with the stars. Even so, when the touring season ends, and the intensity of life and work on the road wind down, the Circus family breaks up and the performers return to homes that sometimes are half-way around the world.

Circus is an art that has to be seen to be believed.  It’s a different animal, some say, where one artist risks life and limb doing flips through the air above the ring, throwing knives from his tongue, or dropping suddenly from great heights with just a length of silk separating her from a crushing fall. This is why eyes fix on the ring, the thrill of danger, the strangeness of something never before seen, the imagined brought to life in the exotic artistry of Circus.

About the author:

Beth Timmins is writer-in-residence with the Gifford Circus. Find out more about her time with the Gifford’s Circus at