As a child, a trip to the circus was marked by smells and colours, sights and sounds. This past week, I took my kids to their second Cirque du Soleil show, Dralion, and I can’t help but reflect on the differences and similarities in the experiences.
The most remarkable part of my first circus experience was entering the big top tent. The bold, bright colours of the tent reminded me of a present to be unwrapped; surely something good would be inside! Once seated, I smelled popcorn for sale from trays hung around vendors’ necks, and I also smelled animal feces; a strange and exotic? combination.
I remember that my view was partially obstructed by a tent pole, and I kept looking at the tent ceiling. The show itself had me laughing with clowns, clenching the underside of my chair during the tightrope performance, and awed by the sight of a beautiful woman in a sparkly outfit perched on top of a huge beast of an elephant. I also remember some furry animals “dancing” on balls and more beautiful people doing acrobatics, sparkling, atop galloping horses that went round and around the ring.
Now let’s fast forward over 30 years, to a city where animal acts are forbidden by city council. I introduced my children to an adaptation of the circus in 2012 at the Cirque du Soleil performance of Quidam.
While my first such experience, Saltimbanco, in 1998 in Ottawa was in a yellow and blue big top tent, Quidam, like this most recent show, Dralion, was at the Essar Centre. (I recognize that stadium venues, and the fixed venues in Las Vegas allow for more elaborate stages and sets, but there was some magic in the tent itself.)
Quidam tickets went on sale shortly after I’d returned from Las Vegas, where I’d seen two other shows by Cirque du Soleil, Mystere and Zumanity. I wanted my children to experience the awe, magic, and wonder of these shows, and I bought us up close and personal seats.
The smell of animal feces from my circuses past was (fortunately) replaced by dry ice for them. There were no animals, there were no snacks sold by vendors in the aisles, but my kids did feel many of the same emotions I had.
My son clearly thought that the clowns who opened the show and interacted with the crowd were hilarious. At one point I noticed him with his head back and mouth wide open, laughing, slapping his knee with appreciation.
My daughter was much more enthralled by the costumes and acrobatics. She was also quite taken by the fact that the music was being played and sung live.
As a former gymnast, I found myself clapping at moments when others were silent. The performers made strength moves that would topple most mythological gods look effortless. Only those who have attempted such feats can really understand the peak physical shape these athletes are in to make everything look so easy (and attemptable).
When the juggler let one of five balls he had in the air get away from him, at first I found myself disappointed with this flaw in the show. Then I decided to inventory that moment for a later date to remind the kids that we all make mistakes and the show must go on.
As we filed out of the arena, I felt transported back to that big top. We’d gone to a matinee performance, and emerging from darkness into the bright sunlight was just like coming out of the big top tent three decades earlier… only without the smell of elephant poop.
When we got home, my daughter asked me which was my favourite show so far, and I told her “Love,” which I saw in Las Vegas in 2008. That said, I’m open to having a new favourite and will continue attending Cirque du Soleil shows whenever I can.
Hopefully, all of the empty seats for the Dralion show will not impact future performances (perhaps the matinee was an anomaly) as I’d hope to see the Cirque du Soleil in town again.
The circus brings joy to children of all ages, and I truly believe that everyone should have their imaginations captured by that kind of magic and wonder, as often as possible.