Sunday, April 19, 2009

Serious Weekend: Part I

Saturday night, I went to the Cole Bros. Circus in Wilson, NC. It was charmingly low-tech, and I enjoyed watching the setup as much as I enjoyed watching the acts. I'm almost finished reading Under the Big Top, Bruce Feiler's chronicle of his season with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, and I'm amazed at how much has changed in 14 years: no more band (perhaps the only high-tech accoutrement was the sound system), fewer acts (no trapeze!), no more Clyde Beatty (I've yet to research the split, though Feiler explains the merger quite well).

The hair suspension act and the human cannonball were impressive. The former reminds me of the pain endured when perfecting the tight, tight ponytail that I had to sport at some point in middle school, though I do not pretend that this self-inflicted hair-pulling is anything compared to the strain of holding the weight of an, albeit waifish, human body-- and spinning like a little human helicopter. The latter was exciting perhaps more because I've read so much about it (Feiler, who had a friendship with the human cannonball of hi season, describes the cannon and the background of the act in great detail); still, the cannon (the World's Largest Cannon) was a phallic wonder, and were positioned right next to it.

I was also amazed, if not a little disturbed, by the youngest member of the Colombian family of tight-rope walkers, a fearless 10-year old who did a handstand atop a seven-man pyramid (itself, of course, atop the tight-rope). I was relieved that he wore a harness, and it detracted not at all from his feat. I'm also thrilled to see that there are still family acts (if the Ringmaster's hype is to be believed), and that these talents are being taught to younger generations. Perhaps when his old enough to have his own act, he can play Wii 100 feet in the air instead of jumping rope or sitting on a chair?

(The friend who bravely accompanied me to the middle of nowhere for the show asked of the women who suspend and twirled around ceiling-to-floor lengths of billowy white fabric, "How do you figure out that you can do things like this?" I replied, "Because your grandmother and your mother could, and they start teaching you as soon as you can walk.")

I must also mention the Big Top: BEAUTIFUL, even under the visible grime that coated it. I've never seen a big top before, so I was mesmerized. The outside was almost stereotypical: wide red and yellow stripes, points punctuated with flags.

I figured it was the same inside, but I was surprised to discover that inside the tent was a story-book night sky: dark blue (well, kind of a dust-coated dark blue) background with fat white stars, and bigger bursts of white where each "pole" (it was really more like narrow scaffolding) pierced the top.

I was disappointed that the crowd wasn't bigger, but most of the people there seemed geniunely awed and amazed, so the show accomplished what it is meant to accomplish. The only person who didn't seem smitten was the creepy old man in front of me who laughed at my gasps and sighs of relief during some of the more tense performances. When he asked me what I would have done if he had grabbed my knee, I replied, "I probably would have kicked you." He shut up and let me enjoy the rest of the show.

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