The Big Top is nearly full, the lights go down, and a lone drummer takes to the stage. A sense of the familiar, the surreal, and a frisson of the unknown, entwine in an anticipation that is physical. A spotlit ringmaster enters the ring, announces a trio of hula hooping glamorous girls, and we’re off.
Sawdust and sequins, lights and hoops, Santus Circus’ show ‘The Edge’ is a unique, thrilling blend of familiar acts delivered in new, breath-gasping ways, family-friendly touches and genuinely death-dazzling feats of physicality.
Santus has always veered towards the family-friendly end of things – a touch which makes this particular circus feel very human. A family-run circus itself (Ernest Santus is the ringmaster, and both Sacha and Lucien, the clowns, are part of the Santus family), its lighter acts delight and reassure. Clowns with water pistols, audience participation (dads, hide!) and Mr Slinky, a giant, disco-rainbowed human slinky spring, bouncing and popping all over the ring like a multi-limbed snake. Some lovely half-time touches, including face-painting and photos with robots (bring some extra cash), go down well with children between the queue for the loo and more candyfloss.
Its more risky acts have always been high calibre – it’s always great to see Tony and Nicole with their ridiculously dangerous whip-cracking and knife-throwing act, and some eye-widening double-speed juggling. But this year, the bar has been raised several notches, with a greater focus on some truly stunning aerial work and a high degree of attention to thematics and choreography. This is theatre-quality stuff: Olympian athleticism and Royal Ballet-level grace, slung fifty foot in the air, whirled by a toe, or the neck.
There is a distinct masculine/feminine twist to some of the acts this year: Craig and his Transformers-style robot present an industrialised, graphic novella-style story on a cloud swing. Aagii commits crimes against gravity on the Chinese Pole, and Duo Roma, clad in galaxy-printed lycra, present an all-male act of incredible strength on a single trapeze. The glamour ante has been upped with Miss Lucy, presenting an exquisite combination of strength, flexibility, delicacy and poise, as she glides, drops and soars on her aerial silks and hoop, and the Family Cristea, two couples who between them present a stunning high wire act (on a bike and stilts. Stilts!!!) and an aerial act, using the whole ring to swing, hang and swoop by, a hangnail from each other.
For many, the pièce de résistance of this year’s show will be the Globe of Death, featuring the Brothers Zafalon – two boys on bikes from Brazil whirring round inside a tiny hamster ball, inches from the ringside seats.
But it was the aerialists that populated my dreams afterwards. Spotlit, tiny, mortal, turning and tumbling among the stars in the deep, midnight blue of the Big Top.
Magic that stays with you.
For dates and times of performances of ‘The Edge’ take a look at our listing for Le Cirque De France.