Home-grown 'Cirque du Liban' entertains Lebanese audiences

Clowns perform their act during a "Cirque du Liban" show. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Shorfa]

Clowns perform their act during a "Cirque du Liban" show. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Shorfa]

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Students from the Apôtres school in Jounieh waited anxiously for the curtain to rise on the show they had come to see.

Then Freddy Yachoui ran to the middle of the stage, jumped onto the table and began his gymnastics routine to wide applause. Yachoui alternated between contorting his lean body and standing on his head. Then he did a backbend as the students held their breath.

After his performance, the clown took the stage with his balloons, drawing laughter from the students who competed to grab the balloons.

Many scenes followed with juggling, gymnastics, climbing chairs, ropes and other circus performances.

All of these were part of "Le Cirque Fantastique", a production of Cirque du Liban, which began December 20th and continues until spring.

One of Lebanon's first home grown circuses

In the past, Lebanon hosted circus troupes composed of foreign performers, but now it has one of its own for the first time. Named "Cirque du Liban", it is six years old and is about to become an international act.

"Our circus is theatrical and is inspired by the Cirque du Soleil in Canada which depends on the people, the flexibility of their bodies and their acrobatics," said Thierry Antonios, the 23-year-old circus founder. "We do not include animals in our theatre."

Backstage, Antonios goes over the show's lighting and music direction to make sure they are synchronised with the performances. After receiving assurance that the student audience was impressed, based on its vigorous applause and calls for an encore, Antonios smiled.

"It is the moment I have been waiting for," he said. "Since childhood, I loved the circus and watched it on television. When I grew up, I said to myself, 'Why not have a circus in Lebanon?'"

So Antonios took the initiative and began working to found a Lebanese circus. He visited other countries to gather ideas.

"In 2005, I met with my partner Ishac Abu Sari, and we travelled to Russia and Ukraine where we learned the foundations of the circus and obtained information and ideas, and we practiced magic and balancing acts to use in Lebanon," he said.

When they returned to Lebanon, they began looking for people who could perform in a circus. By 2006, they formed a troupe of 30 Lebanese performers aged between 12 and 25 years old. Since that time, the troupe has been performing shows using international techniques.

Training in Lebanon and Ukraine

Antonios, who said the show's content changes each season, said that every two months the circus members receive training in Ukraine and Lebanon from specialists.

The current edition of "Cirque du Liban" includes 20 scenes that incorporate gymnastics, trampoline, acrobatics, magic and balancing acts. Performances last for an hour and a half.

"Everything the audience sees is made in Lebanon as we have scene designers, a producer, a theatre manager and a director, in addition to my experience and my partner's in this area," Antonios said. "Each person designs a scene and presents it to us for approval."

The troupe is currently preparing to build its own circus tent, and Antonios said his goal is to have 50 artists on stage and 30 backstage and perform internationally. He said the circus has performed in Arab countries, Turkey and Canada and is preparing a huge performance in Qatar next Ramadan.

Circus performers shared their happiness about being part of a unique experience in Lebanon.

Yachoui, 15, said he was delighted to be participating as a prominent member of the circus.

"For five years, I have been giving flexibility and back-bending performances, and people like that," he said. "I have been practicing flexibility since childhood."

Yacoub Abu Sari, 23, who specializes in audio-visual techniques and performs balloon shows and light games, said, "Since childhood, I have loved the circus. There was a camp for foreigners in Lebanon a few years ago in which I participated and learned about the light and balloon games. After practicing it as a hobby, I decided to pursue it as a career and travelled to Ukraine to acquire training, and I am still doing it today."

Abbas Mrouwe, the circus' 20-year-old clown, travels from Germany, where he lives, to Lebanon to participate in shows each season.

"My participation in the circus goes back to my loving this world and the friends I made in the troupe," he said. "Every time there is a show, I return from Germany, where I work as a men's hair stylist to give my performance. I am very excited that Lebanon has its own circus."

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    علي سليمان

    2012-2-7

    Circus is the only place that will make the citizens happy and entertained especially by the presentation of the clowns. The arts of the circus are among the most important arts, but the Arabs could not match the circus from the foreign countries. The Arabs have to develop this idea in order for it to work and they should observe how the circus from foreign countries perform in order for them to succeed in many festivals. The Arabs must be more sophisticated than the others because they have enough potential in order to be at the top and always among the best. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the business owner to develop them in order to have a greater chance in becoming the same level with Europe and other countries. The circus needs to be developed and meet many requirements in order to become better. All the qualities that exist in European and international circuses must exist in it. We hope that there will be similar programs. Everyone who is responsible for this matter should work very seriously and with God’s will, the coming days will prove all the best.

  • ظافر خاليد

    2012-2-7

    We in the Arab world do not have any circuses at all because we have no circus industry or development of it. Russia, however, is one the countries that are famous for their circus industry and for the provision of the best and most beautiful international presentations. It is one of the countries that benefit the most from this by presenting their circus teams in more than one country. We Arabs are sending for them and we pay them a lot of money because we do not have enough educational resources for starting an Arab circus industry. We may have some talents which I consider very normal when compared to the professionals from Russia, but these talents are not known and are not international. They are merely talents and if we gather and form teams to train together and find support, we may see a circus industry in the Arab World. Arabs are not interested in the circus because they just like to watch it. I hope that the circus in the Arab World would receive some attention and that a specific circus that would be presented in all Arab countries would be created, especially since the circus fans are so many and are not limited to a specific category. Everyone likes to watch a circus presentation and spend enjoyable times together because circus is a means to entertain and give pleasure to all who watch it.

  • سعيد بشار

    2012-2-5

    It is not a secret. Circus games were unknown activities to Arabs until western acrobatic groups were hosted in Arab countries to perform their beautiful shows for the entertainment of the Arab audience. These acrobatics are truly beautiful, and in order to perform them properly, they require superior abilities and intelligence. By hosting western acrobatic groups, a lot of Arabs were influenced by these circus sports. Therefore, single and group initiatives emerged among lovers of this sport, but they weren’t as professional as the western groups’ performances that are almost unbelievable. These attempts continued to develop among Arab lovers of these games, through following the activities of international circus groups and exercising some moves. In addition, some interested people travel outside their countries to participate in training courses, to learn how to practice these acrobatic sports, to get to know their origins and to master them. Also, they learn some other arts, such as games of magic and trick games, which accompany sports and acrobatics, in order to transfer these experiences to their countries, improve them gradually, and form specialist teams, whose leading performers and acrobats are from the Arab world. Indeed, a specialized Arab circus group was formed in Lebanon by some interested people, who received outside training. This group is the core of many other groups that will be formed in all Arab countries, and it will perform beautiful shows in the Arab world, not only in Lebanon because it presents beautiful performance and powerful expression. Audiences were fascinated by the shows of this youthful group. Also, this group is getting ready to perform a number of shows in some Arab countries as part of its new fun programs.