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.”
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.
“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.”
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.