Cirque Corner  


Cirque du Soleil [ You are here: Grand Chapiteau | Creations ]




The Concept
The Artefacts


The Circus Sets Foot in the Museum!

Keen on promoting knowledge of the circus in Quebec and abroad, and in furthering the public's awareness of the history of the circus and its many faces around the world, Cirque du Soleil teamed up with Le Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City to produce Circus Magicus, the first of its kind exhibit in Quebec. "We are proud to be able to lend our expertise and our creative resources to a project that is representative of the circus industry the world over," stated Cirque du Soleil's president, Daniel Gauthier.

The exhibit took an intimate approach with the visitor. Witnesses, objects of veneration and symbols in turn, the articles in the exhibit drew the visitor close, adorned with the myth of those who have touched them, with the legend of those who have used them, some clothed in an aura of glory, others in disgrace. The exhibit's main objective was to underscore the extraordinary, astonishing nature of the circus by highlighting the fascination it holds for the so-called sedentary cultures.

Dates: Jun.10.1998 - Jan.05.2003
Type: Exhibit
Status: No Longer Touring


Musée de la Civilisation
Jun.10.1998 - Mar.12.2000

Royal BC Museum
Oct.05.2000 - Mar.04.2001

Chicago MOSI
Apr.06.2001 - Sep.09.2001

Kansas City Museum
Jun.29.2002 - Jan.05.2003

[ Concept | The Artefacts | Gallery ]

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    Explore the magic of the circus, immerse yourself in a fabulous universe of wonder and daring, laughter and emotion: this is the highly charged program awaiting visitors of the Circus Magicus exhibition. Circus Magicus leads us to discover a world in motion, always in search of new challenges to be met and of new frontiers to be crossed. A prodigious gathering of artistic expression as numerous as varied, some deriving from ancient traditions, whether named Circus Maximus, Big Apple Circus, Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Cirque Archaos, Cirque Oz, Cirque du Soleil, whether traditional or contemporary, the circus bewilders, the circus captivates... Through the history and the great features of the modern circus, visitors of the exhibition are drawn in to understanding the fascination it exerts, not only on the general public but also on those who have made it a means of expression and, at times, a way of life.

    Fascinating Artefacts

    Costumes, personal effects, apparatus, devices, masks, trapezes, scale models, engravings, lithographs, musical instruments, posters... the 200 artefacts on display in the exhibition derive directly from the circus; they belong to or once were the property of circus performers from Europe, America, and the world over. They are part of celebrated public and private collections. These magnificent objects, whether ancient or contemporary, embody the spirit of the circus ring. They bare the unique signature of a legendary artist, an outstanding performance, a revolutionary invention or an extraordinary act of bravery.

    Audiovisual displays also take up a major part of the exhibition. Presented together with different parts of the exhibition are interviews with contemporary circus artists, excerpts from archive films (such as training, risks and dangers inherent to the profession), excerpts from shows, parades under the Big Top, performers' acts (clowns, jugglers, etc.). And, though the circus is above all a visual art, music has always played an important part : the public can experience different types of traditional and contemporary circus music.

    The Circus in Three Settings

    A short introduction to the exhibition pays tribute to public entertainers and briefly relates the amazing adventure of the circus. The exhibition then moves on to three of the aspects that connect the leading figures involved (performers, creators and spectators): passion, imagination and sensations.

    From its distant origins - modern circus with its 13-meter diameter ring dates back to the end of the Eighteenth Century - the circus has forever dealt in passion. Whether jugglers, trapezists, riders, tightrope walkers, acrobats, lion tamers or clowns, the discipline and whole way of life of these artists of the road, these great legends of the ring, are strong evidence of their passion. Body and soul, they are dedicated to perfecting their art, to surpassing their limits, and at times, even challenging death. With passing years and wide travels, the circus has been exposed to exterior influences, ensuring its constant renewal. Passion also rules when the people of the circus pass on their trade, from generation to generation, either within the family or in specialised circus schools.

    Authentic dream-merchants, the creators of the circus put their heart and soul into the show, blending colour, rhythm and magic to stir up the fantasies of a public in search of emotion. Along with the evolution of techniques, of fashions and of the public's taste, circus style has greatly evolved and the somewhat wild imagination of its creators has found new sources of inspiration. Through the magnificence of its costumes, the splendour of its sets, the extravagance or deliberate austerity of productions, the magic of lighting and music, the spectator is carried away in a world of make-believe. In turn, the new generation brilliantly revives the language of modern circus, drawing from the world of painting, theatre and poetry.

    World of odours and of unusual sounds, where the sublime mingles with the grotesque, perfection with abnormality, where wild animals join forces with mankind, where laughter often turns to tears, the circus meets this human desire to be moved by unusual emotions and bizarre sensations. Here, surprise and anguish, laughter and marvel are the key emotions. The public lights up at the sight of elephants marching into the ring, of the tiger leaping through a hoop of fire, of the acrobat chimpanzee or the juggling sea-lion... At times tension rises giving way to anguish until the clown, -inescapable personage of the modern circus- makes an appearance : suspense is dispelled, danger, dismissed.

    A Circus Atmosphere

    The design of Circus Magicus speaks of passion, imagination and emotion, with each of the three exhibition areas characterized by its own colouring and texture. With velvet curtains, glimmering reddish tones and objects that seem to float in the air, the first area (passion) presents an almost mystical ambience. The second area (imagination) recreates the spectacular atmosphere of a circus ring surrounded by the traditional ringside seats. The last area (emotion) leads to an explosive finale where sound and lighting emphasize the effects of realism and surprise.

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    Here are few highlights from the more than 200 artifacts that you'll see in the exhibition Circus Magicus, only at Under the Big Top!

    • Copperplate depicting the Circus Maximum in Rome, about 660 BC. Original work on paper from 1599.
    • L’acrobate. Cast of bronze statuette from the Roman period.
    • Rope dancer engraving. Unknown artist from the 18th century.
    • Wardrobe trunk belonging to the whiteface clown Punch. Using an act he put together while imprisoned in Poland during the Second World War, he went on to travel across Europe.
    • Reproduction of Karl Wallenda’s show costume.
    • Costume worn by Gunther Gebel-Williams, who revolutionized the world of animal training with his positive reinforcement techniques.
    • Hand-painted animal costume from the Big Apple Circus, New York.
    • Mary-José Knie's rider costume.
    • Elephant head harness from Circus Knie.
    • Bag, cone and mandolin by François Fratellini.
    • Costume and juggling rings of acrobat clown Jean-Baptiste Auriol.
    • Musical scores commissioned by Gilbert Houcke.
    • Dolly Sisters miniature bike.
    • Raoul Monbar's trapeze, platform, rope ladder and rope.
    • Conduct record of animal trainer Bidel. Certificates of good behavior 1872-74.
    • Menagerie. Built in Germany in 1865, it allowed the curious of all ages to see animals that they never knew existed.
    • Grock the clown's costume, with origins in the 1880s.
    • Barnum's Museum. "Over 200,000 Curiosities." Prospectus published in 1866.
    • Photograph collection includes Eli Bowen, acrobat without legs; Sir Marcus Goodwillie, weighing 996 lbs.; Annie Jones, the bearded woman; Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.
    • Performing flea circus. Three-minute audiovisual presentation.
    • Performing dog's skirt and costume for performing monkey.
    • Photographic collection includes Eli Bowen, acrobat without legs; Sir Marcus Goodwillie, weighing 996 lb.; Annie Jones, the bearded woman; Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.
    • Makeup of famous American clowns. Artifact collection.
    • Clowns costumes. Worn at the clown school of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.
    • Reversible coat and juggling clubs of Rommy Hanneford. Standing on horseback at full gallop, he took off his coat and put it on inside out between two somersaults.
    • Program from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Printed in Paris, 1899.
    • Two models of parade wagons from the Roy Arnold Circus.
    • Sketch of the elephant blanket and head harness for the Rain Forest Show.
    • Traditional and contemporary circus music. Six-minute audio includes excerpts of compositions by John Phillip Sousa and Robert Miny.
    • Whistle gloves. Used both as a prop and a musical instrument, the gloves are played on both hands as each whistle sounds a different note.

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    The balancing mouthpiece of Angela Laurier's (Le Cirque Reinvente) and Vasily Dementchoukov's balancing chairs (from Nouvelle Experience) were on hand. They even had a Floune costume, Madame Corporation's costume and some items from Alegría: one of the musician's outfits (complete with hair) and a bird mask. Not only were there artifacts, but much, much more, including: video interviews, performance clips and music. A wonderful collection of Cirque artifacts indeed!

Cirque Corner