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The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey Into the Wondrous World of the Circus, Past and Presentby Duncan Wall
Synopses & Reviews
The extraordinary story of a young man’s plunge into the unique and wonderful world of the circus—taking readers deep into circus history and its renaissance as a contemporary art form, and behind the (tented) walls of France’s most prestigious circus school.
When Duncan Wall visited his first nouveau cirque as a college student in Paris, everything about it—the monochromatic costumes, the acrobat singing Simon and Garfunkel, the juggler reciting Proust—was captivating. Soon he was waiting outside stage doors, eagerly chatting with the stars, and attending circuses two or three nights a week. So great was his enthusiasm that a year later he applied on a whim to the training program at the École Nationale des Arts du Cirque—and was, to his surprise, accepted.
Sometimes scary and often funny, The Ordinary Acrobat follows the (occasionally literal) collision of one American novice and a host of gifted international students in a rigorous regimen of tumbling, trapeze, juggling, and clowning. Along the way, Wall introduces readers to all the ambition, beauty, and thrills of the circus’s long history: from hardscrabble beginnings to Gilded Age treasures, and from twentieth-century artistic and economic struggles to its brilliant reemergence in the form of contemporary circus (most prominently through Cirque du Soleil). Readers meet figures past—the father of the circus, Philip Astley; the larger-than-life P. T. Barnum—and present, as Wall seeks lessons from innovative masters including juggler Jérôme Thomas and clown André Riot-Sarcey. As Wall learns, not everyone is destined to run away with the circus—but the institution fascinates just the same.
Brimming with surprises, outsized personalities, and plenty of charm, The Ordinary Acrobat delivers all the excitement and pleasure of the circus ring itself.
"In this enchanting memoir sprinkled with historical anecdotes, Wall pulls the reader into the world of the circus, past and present. An American, in 2003 he received a Fulbright grant to study the 'new circus' in Paris and soon realized that this was a world far removed from the Ringling Brothers. The book follows Wall's schooling in the art and practice of contemporary European circus skills, along with his growing fascination with circus history. As he develops skills in juggling, tumbling, trapeze, and clowning, he inserts background on each form. Wall's conversations with other students, professionals, and circus historians delve into reasons for entering this still-separate life. One of the most striking notes revealed through these is the mystical aspect to the craft felt by circus artists. Until recently born into the life, increasingly circus performers are passionate converts, and Wall shows his respect for them by declining to take his final exam, not for lack of skill but of passion. Wall also offers an amusing, enlightening guide to Paris for circus aficionados, and his captivating journey of discovery may lead others to consider running away to join one. Agent: Jane Chelius, Jane Chelius Literary Agency. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An utterly charming account of the author's novice plunge into the strange and wonderful world of contemporary circus, and a nostalgic look back at circus history and inside the current Cirque du Soleil-fueled phenomenon.
When Duncan Wall visited his first nouveau cirque as a college student in Paris, everything about it--the monochromatic costumes, the acrobats singing Simon and Garfunkel, the juggler reciting Proust--hooked him. Soon he was attending circuses two or three nights a week, and soon after that, he entered the intensively competitive training program at France's École Nationale des Arts du Cirque. The Ordinary Acrobat is a magical, funny, sometimes scary story of what happens when one average American joins a host of gifted (and flexible) international students in a rigorous regimen of tumbling, trapeze, juggling, and clowning. This is an appealing, richly evocative history of how the circus evolved into the dynamic, thrilling experience it is today.
About the Author
DUNCAN WALL is a writer, director, and performer. In 2003, he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study contemporary circus in Paris, where he enrolled at France's National Circus school. He is on the board of directors for the American Youth Circus Organization and a cofounder of The Candidatos, a critically acclaimed theatrical clown company. His work has been featured at Lincoln Center, New York's City Center, and the Samuel Beckett Theater in Dublin, Ireland.
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Arts and Entertainment » Drama » Circus