The circus is a form of entertainment that has a long and rich history. It typically features a variety of skilled performers who showcase their talents through acrobatics, juggling, tightrope walking, clowning, and animal acts. Circuses often travel from place to place, setting up large tents or pavilions to hold their performances.

Historically, the modern circus can be traced back to the late 18th century in Europe, with one of the most well-known figures being Philip Astley, an English equestrian who is credited with establishing the first modern circus in 1768. Astley's circus included horseback riding displays, which became a central element of circuses for many years.

Over time, circuses evolved and expanded their repertoire, incorporating new acts and attractions. In the 19th century, the American circus industry flourished with famous names like P.T. Barnum and the Ringling Brothers leading the way. They introduced large-scale traveling circuses that featured a wide range of acts, including trapeze artists, aerialists, contortionists, and fire breathers.

Animal acts have also been a prominent part of circuses throughout history. Traditionally, elephants, lions, tigers, horses, and other trained animals were featured in performances. However, in recent years, there has been growing concern and criticism regarding the treatment and ethical considerations surrounding the use of animals in circuses. As a result, many circuses have transitioned to animal-free performances, focusing more on human skills and creativity.

The circus atmosphere is often characterized by a festive and colourful ambiance, with lively music, dazzling costumes, and elaborate sets. The role of the clown is integral to the circus, providing comedic relief and interacting with the audience. Clowns use physical comedy, slapstick humour, and exaggerated gestures to entertain and bring laughter to the crowd.

In addition to traditional circus performances, contemporary circuses have emerged that incorporate elements of theatre, dance, and other artistic disciplines. These modern circuses often push the boundaries of traditional circus acts, blending them with storytelling and innovative staging techniques.

While the popularity of circuses has somewhat diminished over the years due to changing entertainment preferences and concerns about animal welfare, the circus continues to captivate audiences worldwide. Cirque du Soleil, for example, has gained international acclaim for its unique and theatrical approach to circus arts.

Overall, the circus is a vibrant and dynamic form of entertainment that has evolved and adapted over centuries, bringing joy, wonder, and awe-inspiring performances to audiences around the globe.

Most famous circus

One of the most famous and influential circuses in history is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was often referred to as "The Greatest Show on Earth." Founded in the United States in the late 19th century, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus grew to become the largest and most well-known circus in the world.

The circus was a merger of two prominent circus companies: the Ringling Bros. Circus, established by the Ringling brothers in 1884, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus, founded by renowned showman P.T. Barnum in 1871. The combined circus featured an array of captivating acts, including acrobats, clowns, trapeze artists, aerialists, animal acts, and many other thrilling performances.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus gained immense popularity, touring extensively throughout the United States and even internationally. Their shows were known for their grandeur, scale, and variety. The circus incorporated innovative techniques and introduced new acts that pushed the boundaries of traditional circus arts.

Sadly, after more than a century of entertaining audiences, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus held its final performances in 2017, citing declining attendance and high operating costs as reasons for its closure. Nonetheless, the circus left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment and remains one of the most iconic circuses in history.

It's also worth mentioning Cirque du Soleil, a contemporary circus company founded in Canada in 1984. Cirque du Soleil revolutionized the circus industry by blending circus arts with theatre, music, dance, and elaborate storytelling. The company's shows have achieved international fame and critical acclaim, captivating audiences with their visually stunning performances and artistic interpretations. Cirque du Soleil has become a global phenomenon, with shows performed in various cities worldwide and a significant influence on the modern circus landscape.

More on Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil is a Canadian entertainment company that has redefined the concept of circus arts. It was founded in 1984 by two street performers, Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, in Quebec. What started as a small troupe of street performers has since grown into a global sensation and a major player in the entertainment industry.

Cirque du Soleil stands out for its unique approach to circus performances. Unlike traditional circuses, which often focus on individual acts, Cirque du Soleil presents shows that are theatrical productions with a cohesive storyline, thematic elements, and stunning visual effects. The company emphasizes artistic expression, athleticism, and a fusion of various performing arts disciplines.

The shows of Cirque du Soleil feature a combination of acrobatics, aerial arts, contortion, dance, music, and elaborate costumes and sets. The performers, known as "cirque artists," are highly skilled individuals who undergo rigorous training to showcase their incredible physical abilities and artistic talents. The company has attracted some of the world's best performers and collaborators, including choreographers, directors, composers, and costume designers.

Cirque du Soleil shows often have a narrative or thematic structure that guides the performances. Each show tells a story or explores a particular concept, immersing the audience in a world of imagination and wonder. The productions are known for their visually stunning and dreamlike environments, where the stage is transformed into a magical realm through innovative lighting, projection mapping, and set design.

Over the years, Cirque du Soleil has created numerous highly successful and critically acclaimed shows. Some of its most famous productions include "Mystère," "O," "KÀ," "Love," "Corteo," "Amaluna," and "Luzia." Each show has its own distinct theme, style, and artistic vision, offering audiences a unique and awe-inspiring experience.

Cirque du Soleil has toured extensively around the world, bringing its shows to audiences in various countries and continents. It has also established permanent shows in Las Vegas and other locations, providing ongoing performances for visitors and fans.

In addition to its live shows, Cirque du Soleil has expanded its reach through collaborations with other entertainment entities, such as creating special performances for events like the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl halftime show. The company has also ventured into film and television productions, releasing documentaries and television specials showcasing its performances and behind-the-scenes stories.

Cirque du Soleil has left an indelible mark on the circus industry, transforming it into a form of high art and captivating audiences with its imaginative and breathtaking performances. Its influence has inspired countless other circus companies and artists to explore new creative possibilities within the realm of circus arts.

Films about or containing a circus

There have been several notable films that revolve around the circus as a central theme or backdrop. Here are some well-known movies that capture the magic, drama, and spectacle of the circus:

"The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) - Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, this classic film depicts the inner workings of a fictionalized version of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It follows the lives and struggles of various circus performers and staff members.

"La Strada" (1954) - Directed by Federico Fellini, this Italian film tells the story of Gelsomina, a young woman who becomes a part of a traveling circus led by the brutal Zampanò. The film explores themes of love, freedom, and the harsh realities of circus life.

"Circus" (2000) - Directed by Rob Walker, this documentary-style film delves into the behind-the-scenes world of the Big Apple Circus. It offers a close look at the lives of the performers, including clowns, trapeze artists, and animal trainers.

"Water for Elephants" (2011) - Based on the novel by Sara Gruen, this romantic drama film follows the story of a young veterinary student who joins a struggling circus during the Great Depression. He falls in love with the wife of the circus's cruel animal trainer and becomes involved in the drama and intrigue of circus life.

"The Circus" (1928) - Directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin, this silent film is a comedy that revolves around Chaplin's iconic "Tramp" character getting accidentally caught up in a circus. The film showcases Chaplin's physical comedy and slapstick antics.

"Dumbo" (1941) - An animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions, "Dumbo" tells the story of a young elephant with oversized ears who is ridiculed but later discovers he can fly. The circus serves as a significant setting in the film, highlighting themes of acceptance and self-belief.

"Big Fish" (2003) - Directed by Tim Burton, this fantasy drama film follows the life of Edward Bloom, a man known for his larger-than-life stories. The film features a magical circus sequence and explores the themes of imagination, storytelling, and the blurred lines between reality and fiction.

These are just a few examples of films that feature the circus as a prominent element. Each movie offers a unique perspective on the vibrant world of the circus, showcasing its allure, challenges, and the lives of those who inhabit it.