Commissioned by famed Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti for the Spoleto Festival in 1986, Circus Flora immediately set about creating productions unlike most Americans had seen before – productions that melded the best elements of traditional European circus with modern theater techniques and sensibilities. From the very beginning, every Circus Flora production has been an original performance, its storyline often rooted in history or literature. Through the narrative, individual acts are woven into a cohesive story, further developed and enhanced by live music composed specifically for the productions. With its 30th anniversary around the corner, Circus Flora has become part of the cultural fabric of St. Louis—an anticipated event and harbinger of summer in the city.
Owing to its leading role in revitalizing circus as a professional performing art, Circus Flora has garnered national and international recognition, receiving many special performance invitations over its nearly three-decade history. In 1997, Circus Flora’s big top tent was the first ever to be erected at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; and in 2002, the tent was raised at The Lincoln Center Festival in New York City. Additionally, the Circus has made an unprecedented six appearances at the prestigious Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, and five appearances on the Island of Nantucket.
Circus Flora showcases world-class talent by both new artists and venerable talent. Their performances represent the continuation and evolution of circus arts and ensure its future for generations to come.
Deep Roots Ensuring Tradition for Future Generations
Ivor David Balding began his career as stage manager for actress Eva La Gallienne. After working for Joe Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival, he founded the New Theatre in New York. During his tenure there he produced 21 plays, including The Knack, The Ginger Man, Scuba Duba, Steambath, The Man in the Glass Booth, and Lenny. His productions were nominated for two Tony Awards and won five Obie Awards.
While working for CBS Sports in Europe, Balding conceived and co-produced the Circus World Championships. Held in London, this Circus Olympics was broadcast worldwide on the BBC, followed by network specials for both CBS and NBC. Balding then managed Jimmy Chipperfield’s Circus World, one of the continent’s most famous circuses. Returning to the United States, Balding worked as a producer for the Big Apple Circus. Balding was the circus consultant to Paramount Pictures for the feature film Big Top Pee Wee, and artistic consultant for the Los Angeles Circus Festival in 1990. He also collaborated with director/choreographer Martha Clarke on Endangered Species, presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.
In 1991 and 1992, Balding served as the artistic director for First Night® – St. Louis, St. Louis’ family arts festival celebrating New Year’s Eve. In 1985, he co-founded Circus Flora with Sheila and Sam Jewell and Alexandre Sacha Pavlata, and became the producer/artistic director of this highly acclaimed traditional, one-ring circus. More than 25 different productions of Circus Flora have toured the U.S. at venues including the Glimmerglass Opera House; six years at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; Lincoln Center’s Ta’ziyeh; and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where Circus Flora was the first to erect a big top tent. In January 2008, Balding received the Excellence in the Arts award from the Arts & Education Council of St. Louis for his lifetime dedication to the arts. PNC Bank Voices of Achievement and KMOX recognized David’s contribution to St. Louis in autumn of 2011. Mr. Balding passed away on May 9, 2014. Learn more about Balding’s legacy in this St. Louis Public Radio article by Robert Duffy and read the New York Times article describing his remarkable life.
Flora, for which the Circus is named, is an orphaned elephant that David Balding rescued when her mother was killed by ivory poachers in Africa. For 15 years, Flora was a beloved star of the Circus that bears her name. In 2000, Flora retired from stage life and currently resides in the elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. You can learn more about Flora’s journey to her current home in the documentary One Lucky Elephant or by visiting the website of Flora’s Elephant Sanctuary by clicking here.