When cinema spells circus

Last Updated: January 31, 2013By Tags: ,

Paris—From George Méliès to Jacques Demy’ “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” to “Pulp Fiction,” “The Matrix,” and “Mission Impossible” French circus troupe Cirque Alexis Gruss is not leaving anything to chance: they’ve got cinema covered.

During a dazzling three-hour event called “Ellipse” which is playing in the French capital until March, the Gruss troupe, made up of a family of musicians, jugglers, dancers, trapeze artists and horsemen, will put on a fabulous show that will astound adults and children alike. The company recreates the cinema, in the ring as well as through the use of a giant screen at the back of it, sueding posters and scenes from popular movies and using the circus’s own troupe as actors. This melding of cinema with circus make for a spectacle that Fellini would’ve been proud of.

As it were, the Alexis Gruss troupe—ringleader/patriarch Alexis Gruss and Gipsy Bouglione and their heirs, Firmin, Maud and Stephan, and the latter’s spouse Nathalie as well as their siblings, make up the troupe’s nucleus—is firmly entranched in a traditional kind of circus, or “cirque à l’ancienne” and that’s no joke. The Grusses been in this business since the late nineteenth century.

And wherever the circus goes, so do animals. Lots of them.

The Cirque Alexis Gruss is staffed with a pair of dalmatians named Matisse and Gauguin (we went to visit them backstage afterwards), ponies (one especially strange-looking one called “Voyou” who didn’t do much that day except to roll around in the ring’s sand and finish a carrot he had stuck in the back of his mouth before heading backstage) and a cordial pachyderm named Sindha who studiously went about her routine. A real gem.

And yet horses are what Cirque Alexis Gruss is known for. They have an entire stable of stallions (from Lusitanos to Arabians and Akhal Tekes) evocatively named Asmaral, Fado, Imporio, Bento, Nabucco, and the requisitely-named Pegasus. The stars of the show, however, is a sextet of powerful Freisian horses, who were let out to roam in the ring after a jet from the fog machine filled with the arena with a heavy-hanging blue-tinged haze. The scene, taken straight out from your own mind’s movie screen, lifts the senses and left you slightly dizzy. The mightiness on them horses! Ancestors of this breed, which is typified by a black coat color, were used to carry knights into battle during medieval times.

As with most circuses you can walk backstage after the show to take in the props used during the show, meet members of the troupe and visit the animals in their pens as they’re getting fed or groomed.

If you happen to be in Paris in early 2013 and you’ve got time for just one outing, make it Cirque Alexis Gruss, and bring all your friends with you. It’ll be well worth your time.

WATCH & LISTEN: visit the troupe’s site for stills, videos and a virtual visit (click here)

Gruss with George Melies in back