Circuses tend to get a lot of coverage in these pages. Two good reasons for this are the creepiness of clowns and the fanaticism of animal-rights groups. But we like circuses...or the idea of them, anyway. Take the grittiness of Anthony Quinn's strongman in Federico Fellini's 1954 masterpiece La Strada, for instance. Or the serene grace of the trapeze artist in Wim Wenders' 1988 film Wings of Desire. Or the oddly realistic scene in Dumbo in which the roustabouts erect and take down the big top. Or the splashy tricks and corny melodrama of Trapeze. Or even the silly, colorful freakishness of Big Top Pee-Wee. These are the impressions that made kids want to run away and join the circus back in the old days. Mustachioed ringmasters with thick accents and tattered red jackets, trapeze-bound European families, scarred and temperamental animal trainers, life on the road with a band of misfits, and a soundtrack of calliope music make for a much more interesting life than most can hope for.
Sadly, though, our circus fantasies have never been fulfilled. Contemporary circuses are usually too flashy, too clean (not to say odor-free), too expensive, too souvenir-ridden, too modern. That's why we're pinning our hopes on the promising Kelly Miller Circus. The event begins Saturday at 8 a.m. in Old City Park with a tent-raising, in which Viola the elephant will assist. On Main Street in the park, performers will try to impart the atmosphere of a 19th-century circus. In the big top itself, a traditional circus band will accompany the acts of trapeze artists (they're from Mexico, and they are indeed a family), trained horses, a juggler, Russian bears, and, of course, clowns.
So the circus is not lacking in either of this paper's previous points of interest. Greasepainted, funny-hat-wearing, perpetually smiling men will be in attendance to psychologically scar a new generation. And Kelly Miller is not in the good graces of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- not that any circus that uses animals is. (The tent-raising is far too early for us, but we're sure PETA and friends will be able to rouse themselves.) But because it's not your run-of-the-mill, glossy, modern arena circus, we have high expectations. We just hope it's not too good, because we might be forced to run away and pursue a life under the big top.
The Kelly Miller Circus
April 1 and 2
Old City Park
Shows are 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, with a tent-raising at 8 a.m. Saturday.
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Larra Ann Keel