Nostalgic big-top show brings the golden age of the circus to Jeddah

Jeddawis are all agog as they get to enjoy the performances of Circus 1903 as part of the Jeddah Season festival. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 11 July 2019

Nostalgic big-top show brings the golden age of the circus to Jeddah

  • Circus 1903 recreates the experience of entering the big top during the golden age of circus

JEDDAH: Jeddawis were given the rare chance on Tuesday to travel back in time and experience the kind of circus thrills and excitement that audiences would have enjoyed in the early 20th century. It was all courtesy of the talented performers from Circus 1903, a touring show from the United States that is being staged for the first time in Saudi Arabia, in North Obhur, as part of the Jeddah Season festival.

“It’s wonderful that it’s very different from other circuses. We are trying to present a time period of the early 1900s and what it was like to see live circus back then,” said Chipper Lowell who appears as the ringmaster. “Everything — from the style and look of the stage, the costumes and the music — that just really makes you feel nostalgic for what an old-time, classic circus would be.”

Part of the show included a life-sized puppet elephant and her calf, called Peanut. Lowell explained that life-sized puppets were being used instead of real animals as they wanted to present a more theatrical version.

“Because it’s very hard to get the same emotion you felt with real animals than it would be to have choreographed movement of the little one, Peanut, learning how to do a trick and the mother watching,” said Lowell. “The only thing that would duplicate that would be if it was animation, like the ‘Lion King’ and things like that. We want to present a very theatrical version of the animals in the show and that would be the exact same every night.”

Jeddawis are all agog as they get to enjoy the performances of Circus 1903 as part of the Jeddah Season festival. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The staging of Circus 1903 is another sign of the opening up and development of the entertainment industry in the Kingdom, which is increasingly attracting international shows and performers.

“We feel honored, because we know that this door is opening that will allow a lot of different shows like this to come in and find new audiences,” said Lowell. “It was amazing for us because it’s our first show today and to hear the audience, they really got into it and loved it and applauded and wowed at each trick. It’s going to be fun and I can’t wait to see what other shows will be coming in.

“I’m from California and this is my first time in Saudi Arabia. It’s changed how I think about the people a lot — everyone has been very nice and kind. It’s been a really nice eye-opening experience, and great to see where things are heading in the next couple of years.


30 or more performers are featured in each Circus 1903 show.

“Cinemas reopened recently, too. That’s incredible; I tried to see a movie and I couldn’t because the screening was sold out. It’s an exciting time, to be able to see all the different forms of cinema, live entertainment, interactive entertainment — this is far better than watching something on TV because you’re there in the moment, you can see it live, it’s happening and we get to experience all the appreciation and applause from the audience. It’s really fun.”

Audience members we spoke to after the show seemed to agree.

“It was amazing,” said Razan Al-Ghamdi. “My favorite part of the show was the beginning, when they appeared in costumes from that time period. It was a great atmosphere.”

Jeddawis are all agog as they get to enjoy the performances of Circus 1903 as part of the Jeddah Season festival. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Circus star Balazs Foldvary, who performs using a Cyr wheel and a German wheel — types of hooped acrobatic apparatus that he balances inside while making them move with dance-like grace — said that his first performance in the Kingdom had been a wonderful experience.

“It was great,” he said. “The audience were great as well. I think it was a very good first show. Everybody was very polite and nice and provided us with everything we need.”

Aerial-pole performer Denis Degtyarev added: “It’s a big pleasure to be here. The audience was perfect today; we felt their positive reaction so much.”

Circus 1903 performances continue until July 18, at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. each day.

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 min 25 sec ago

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.