Such a wonderful idea – World Circus Day celebrating Circus Arts and Culture has been embraced by the Principality and is now in its 9th year. Princess Stephanie is its natural Honorary President and “Extraordinary Ambassador”. Could Prince Rainier be more proud! Princess Stephanie carries forward his infectious passion for the circus for future generations. It is truly quite amazing that Monaco nowadays carries the baton for the circus worldwide just like an Olympic torch.
The third Saturday in April is that very special day now each year – World Circus Day – and the venue for it in 2018 the Gymnastics Hall in Louis Stade II. Circus and The Gym, a unique alliance of skill, dexterity, courage and laughter brought to Monaco by none other than the Doctor Alain Frere Circus School from Tourette-Levens and the Femina Sports team from Monaco. They are not professionals but that is hard to believe when you see these circus school children performing. They mesmerize with their uncanny sense of balance and juggling skills and mastery of the ancient tools and secrets of the circus world. Beautiful little children balancing on balls and throwing clubs and hoops in the air with the confidence of pros. Of course, the Femina Sports Team add their own unique talents to this celebration of the circus. Skills to dazzle and equally large doses of laughter as the “Clowns en Folie”, regulars at the Monte Carlo Circus, join in the fray.
And who other to watch over this spectacle with Princess Stephanie in the first row of the audience than Urs Pilz and Alain Frere. HelloMonaco has always wanted to hear from the pioneers of the circus how Monaco became the centre of the circus universe.
Who better than to tell us all about this than Doctor Alain Frere himself. Because if you ever want to know where the circus in the Principality came from it is Dr. Alain Frère who is the gospel on the subject. He was there right from the beginning assisting Prince Rainier III in creating the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. Being an intern and having a huge passion for circus art he had the potential to soar to the greatest heights – and indeed he has. Today, Alain Frère owns one of the most exciting and largest private collections in the world dedicated to the circus. The Doctor Alain Frere introduced HelloMonaco to the history of the creation of the circus festival in our state and also to some other curious and very interesting facts in this exclusive interview.
HelloMonaco: Share with us the history of the creation of the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo? What was your role in its formation?
Doctor Alain Frere: In the 25th anniversary of the reign of Prince Rainier III, in 1974, he created the Circus Festival. He always admired the circus. At that time the French circus was in a difficult situation. The circus was bankrupt and it was very frustrating to Rainier III. This fact stimulated him to organize a circus show in the Principality for the first time. He asked Jean-Louis Medcin, the mayor of Monaco, to think about this possibility. Since I was an intern at a Monaco hospital and my supervisor was Jean-Josef Pastor, I was asked to help with the organizing process. I suggested creating a 4-day festival with a specially selected program. The Prince wanted this event to be a real gala evening. Then we had to face the problem of finding a circus, which would be willing to come to perform in Monaco. Nobody wanted to come because it was planned to be the first circus festival ever held in the Principality. At that time I was a doctor to the Bouglione family and Joseph Bouglione, director of the Parisian circus, agreed to bring his circus to the Principality. The first festival was held, but its scope was much smaller than today. At that time there were only 1800 seats under the dome compared with the current 4000 seats. From the very first days of its existence, the festival became a success. Each performance had a full house. The Prince was the president of the jury. Before his death Prince Rainier handed over his “role” in the festival to his daughter, Princess Stephanie, who had been educated about the circus from a young age. She, like her father, was passionate for the circus and had a limitless love for animals. So this is the story of how the circus was born in Monaco.
HelloMonaco: What do you think about animals in the circus?
Doctor Alain Frere: Not so long ago, in one of the popular publications on the Cote d’Azur, Princess Stephanie made a statement: “Today the circus is attacked by animal defenders.” And this is true, because the public is misled into thinking that animals are treated badly in the circus; and this is an absolutely distorted impression. Here cubs are fed from a baby’s dummy, like babies. They are being caressed every day. Why? Because circus workers consider them as if they are children of their own. Concerning the elephants, cameras are located in their caravan in order to monitor them during the day and at night. Moreover, there is always one person near them to take care of any situation.
It is obvious that if there is no connection between man and animals at all, there will be neither a circus, nor training. It is crucial for a person to love his or her animal, and that the animal loves this person in return. I know that this love really exists.
HelloMonaco: What changes in circus have you remarked in the last 40 years? Has it evolved much?
Doctor Alain Frere: Certainly, the circus and the setting has evolved significantly, especially when we are speaking about the mise-en-scene. Now every single performance is a balanced mix of music, costumes, acting skills and decorative choreography. All these elements are deeply appreciated by the public too.
HelloMonaco: Which circus act is the most special, and regarded as the most exclusive in the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo program, from your point of view?
Doctor Alain Frere: Obviously, the “pas de deux” in rock style with Jozsef and Merrylu Richter; this is something that has not been done in the history of the circus ever. Joseph is a horseman and his wife Merrilu is an incredible acrobat with amazing balance. They have applied both their skills to create this act. In addition, in showing this largest of all carousel of animals, they are paying tribute to the traditional circus. Here we see for the first time 2 giraffes. Moreover, Merrylu saddled one of them, which is certainly a novelty for the circus.
HelloMonaco: Incredible acrobatic stunts, flexibility and amazing balance, are all these elements the result of special human capabilities or as is more likely the result of hard training?
Doctor Alain Frere: You can be the greatest athlete and Olympic champion, but not an artist, because you need to have that instinct to act within yourself, as if there is a born actor in you just waiting to burst out at any moment. You need to know how to present yourself. Being an artist means keeping the attention of the public from the very first seconds of your appearance on the stage.
HelloMonaco: How do you see the future of the circus?
Doctor Alain Frere: As I have already said, today the circus is a target of animal defenders, and this generates negative publicity and misplaced concern with regard to the circus and animal abuses. I would like to believe that someday the government will take action on this matter and send experts, veterinarians to examine circus animals in order to show the circus in a positive light, and to show how well the animals are treated there. This is the true story and it needs to be told.
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