The circus: going, going...

Discuss whatever you want here ... movies, books, recipes, politics, beer, wine, TV ... everything except classical music.

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
John F
Posts: 19350
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: New York, NY

The circus: going, going...

Post by John F » Sun Feb 26, 2017 6:01 am

In America, "the circus" means the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, nearly 150 years old - and now on its final tour before going out of business. The Barnum is indeed P.T. Barnum, whose circus was incorporated into Bailey's and then the Ringling Brothers'. It opened in Brooklyn's Barclay Center, and the New York Times published this story: ... ircus.html

I last saw "the greatest show on Earth" in the '70s at Madison Square Garden, with pretty much all of the family. But our first experience of the RBBB circus was much earlier, in Lancaster PA when I was a kid. My brother says:

"I too remember when the circus came to Lancaster. I seem to remember that there was a parade of all the performers and animals (including the elephants) from the train station through the streets of Lancaster to the fairgrounds. Then you and I were taken out to the fairgrounds where they were setting up the big top. In return for “helping” them set up the gigantic tent (by tugging on some ropes along with a bunch of other little kids), we were given free tickets to the big show, where you and I sat separately with all the other 'helpers' (away from Pop and Mom). Imagine the logistics! For us it truly was the greatest show on earth."

Yes, the show was in a big tent, and no, we kids didn't do all the heavy lifting to put the tent up - that was done by the circus's elephants. But now the elephants are no more, we won't be seeing any, thanks to a crusade by the cruelty to animals people, who sometimes appear to care more about animals than people. After all, the circus took better care of its elephants and other animals than anywhere except in a well-run zoo, and their actual labor was lighter and much shorter than moving tree-sized logs for mahouts in the jungles of southeast Asia. According to a farewell notice on the Ringling site (, not having the elephants cut attendance in half and was the coup de grace for the circus. Whether the crusaders did or didn't foresee and intend this consequence, I couldn't say.

Circuses generally have fallen on hard times here. The pocket-sized Big Apple Circus, which used to play at Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center every Christmas, has closed forever, and the only entertainments that call themselves a circus nowadays are artsy shows (without animals) like the Cirque du Soleil, more suitable for Las Vegas and cruise ships than an open field on the outskirts of Lancaster. As this may be our last chance to see a real circus, then, our family may go to one of the performances, which will be at various eastern cities from Providence to Atlanta and as far west as Cincinnati. The last will be in May.

There's a classical music connection here. Back in 1941, the Ringling circus commissioned George Balanchine to choreograph an act for its elephants. Balanchine in turn approached Stravinsky to compose some music for his elephant ballet. The conversation is said to have gone:

Balanchine: "I wonder if you'd like to do a little ballet with me."
Stravinsky: "For whom?"
Balanchine: "For some elephants."
Stravinsky: "How old?"
Balanchine: "Very young."
Stravinsky: "All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it."

The elephant ballet, complete with Stravinsky's "Circus Polka," was premiered in 1944 by 50 elephants and 50 ballerinas. Stravinsky rescored it for symphony orchestra and recorded it twice. You may recognize part of the music.

I wonder what the circus patrons can have thought when they heard this! Or indeed the elephants themselves. It didn't stay in the circus's repertoire very long.
John Francis

Posts: 13500
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
Location: new york city

Re: The circus: going, going...

Post by lennygoran » Sun Feb 26, 2017 7:20 am

John F wrote: The pocket-sized Big Apple Circus, which used to play at Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center every Christmas
Sue and I went to that twice over the years-quite delightful. Regards, Len

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 13 guests