Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another Step in the Fall

I have long held the belief that Cirque du Soleil is not Circus. They are fabulous performances, and I have never thought otherwise. Some of the shows are spectacular, if disconcerting. But they are not Circus, and I have always bristled when they try to describe themselves as such.

Now comes word that Laliberte and his "troupe of performers" will be producing a Michael Jackson-themed show. I find this distasteful on many levels, not the least of which is that Michael Jackson the man was not exactly an upstanding citizen. There were too many concerns about his emotional stability, his pedophilic interaction with children, and finally his death of a (possibly illegal) drug overdose. Not exactly someone I want to aspire to, and certainly not someone whose strange ways should continue to be idolized with "entertainment."

I think in the early days, Cirque was amazing. The history I've read shows an organization with a dream to provide intense, visually spectacular performances that took Circus a step further and showed the limits of the human body. Now, it just looks like they will do whatever makes a buck. No doubt millions of MJ fans will be buying very expensive tickets to these new Cirque productions (one is to be a traveling performance, the other on permanent location in Las Vegas).

I'll pass, thank you. Give me regular old Circus any day. I'm amazed enough by that.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


One of the people I've interviewed for my circus book is Doug Terranova. Doug is an animal trainer and exotic animal owner in Texas, whose animals have not only performed for commercials and children's movies, but also for circuses all over the country. Anyone who's watched a Barney movie has seen some of his animals (and he himself) in action. He is raising two daughters in the business, as well.

I had the great privilege and honor of spending time with Terranova in Baraboo, Wisconsin, a few summers ago, where he was working his elephants, ponies, and camels at Circus World Museum. It was there that I fell in love with elephants, and particularly a sweet bull named Kamba. Until my time there, I had never understood just how smart an elephant is, and how persuasive they can be when they want something. Kamba, and her companions Congo and Moxie, taught me an awful lot in a few short weeks. One thing I learned about elephants: they will never do anything they don't want to do.

Recently, Terranova surrendered his elephants to a local zoo. I do not know a whole lot of details, but last fall Kamba took a little walk in the country at a circus she was performing at, instead of going into her truck like she was supposed to. There was something more interesting for her to do, so she took a walk. She went to cross a street and a small SUV came around the corner, and you can imagine what happened next. Two elderly people had the crap scared out of them, one SUV door got a tusk-enhancement, and Kamba didn't feel the least bit guilty.

But the ensuing investigation by the USDA (the governmental body that regulates exotic animal performers) and an escalation of animal activists' interference, led to drastic measures. The elephants are now being safely cared for at a zoo.

This makes me sad, first of all, but it also makes me overwhelmingly angry. There are people who should find something better to do with themselves, and that includes animal activists in this country. I have seen elephant care closeup, and I can vouch for how loved and tended these animals are. I saw three spectacular, healthy, happy bulls frolicking in big yard. I saw three elephants with very distinct personalities, and likes and dislikes, who were happy to take whatever treat I offered them, from a crisp apple, cob of corn, or small watermelon. Never once, the whole time I was there, did I see anyone mistreat them in any way. Those elephants were practically loved like lapdogs.

PETA and their kind need to find another hobby. This is none of their business, and certainly, if they can raise the kind of funds they've been able to raise over the last 30 years or so, they can do something useful with that. Running people like Terranova out of their life's work is not a decent way to spend their time or their money. Aren't there enough starving children to be taken care of, intensely poor nations that need help with housing and food production, or Olympic hopefuls that need someone to fund their trainings to take the place of the misguided PETA people?

Angry. I'm just angry. There is not a lot I can do about any of this, but I can still be angry. Maybe someday, PETA (and others like them) will be exposed for the frauds they are.