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The National Circus reborn

A new red and blue tent, bright colors and huge theater lights are some of the changes introduced by renovations to the National Circus in Agouza, soon to be re-opened with the performance “The Dream.”

Artists and management of the circus are working toward the launch of their summer season on 1 June. The space is being reborn, with not just a physical change but an overall transformation into a modern, dramatic circus–one which doesn’t feature animals.

The five-minute opening act, “The Dream,” will introduce Egyptian audiences to a new art form that mingles drama, music, lights, make-up, costumes and interior design. “I will use light to change moods and times, and free space on the stage instead of interior design,” said Mohamed el-Shafie, show director. According to el-Shafie, the experience is designed to show how the circus can be a space for sophisticated artforms.

The performers will be mainly circus clowns, demonstrating that a clown can be a multi-talented artist. Clowns will perform 90 percent of the show, perform acrobatics, act, and sing. The clown’s role here is not just to make people laugh; he is the symbol of “The Dream.”

“We named the show “The Dream” since it represents our hopes realized after our struggle for the last 30 years to achieve a high-standard performance using our limited tools,” said Mohamed Abu Lailah, National Circus general manager.

The history of the National Circus goes back to 1966, when it housed sophisticated Russian trainers and Egyptian performers. But the circus’ glamour didn’t survive past the first decade of its life.

Its downfall started after the death of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was himself a fan of circus arts and appropriated funding for the performers’ training, equipment and wages.

By the mid-1970s, the circus was neglected by the authorities, although it generated a LE3 million annual income, the highest income made within the Ministry of Culture’s performance arts division.

Cultural exchange missions between Egypt and Russia stopped, leading to a deterioration in training for the performers. Replacing old equipment became subject to complex bureaucratic procedures.

“It’s always a challenge to work with our current equipment; it puts the quality of the show and the safety of the performer at risk. That’s why performers opted to buy their own equipment,” said Ahmed Yassin, head of the circus’ bicycles team.

“The circus members always faced injuries. The latest was just a month ago when one of our trapeze artists broke his elbow because the lights were not bright enough for him to see where to fall and the safety net was not stretched, due to its age,” Yassin added.

“We always risk our lives in all our performances. We don’t do it for the money but we do it for the joy we feel during those five minutes in front of the audience, hearing their cheering and applause,” said Abu Lailah.

But change is coming, the circus team has been told.

A LE4-million-renovation fund is intended to revive the National Circus, the construction works for which are planned to be carried out by the Armed Forces. Employees have been promised better conditions, including accident insurance, an increase in wages, international training opportunities, and more exchange programs, starting with the visit of Chinese circus trainer Ben Yang.

“We are happy that we were able to convince the Minister [of Culture] that we are capable of reviving the National Circus. We will have an entire summer show with our team instead of renting the circus to international circus companies, as we did during the last 28 years,” said Abu Lailah.

Renovations and new shows don’t mean the price of tickets will change. The three-category seating arrangement with prices ranging between LE20 and LE50 will remain, and a new area with padded chairs will be introduced, with ticket prices ranging between LE75 and LE100 to increase the circus’ income during the tourist high session. These price ranges do however increase the circus’ accessibility to Egyptians in comparison with the tickets sold by international circus companies renting the space, which sell for up to LE500.

The changes bring fresh hope for a brighter future for the National Circus. “’The Dream’ is the start of a new era for the National Circus, one which might take it to compete in the National Theater Competition,” said el-Shafie.

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