| Thursday April 19, 2018

For more than 30 years, Circus Flora, a one-ring circus that makes St. Louis its home, has offered a circus show that’s best described as live theater. It’s an intimate setting that is in stark contrast to the images some people might conjure of the large Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus which performed for the last time 10 months ago.

Two things are significantly different about this year’s Circus Flora season.

First, performances are starting in April rather than late May or early June, and second, Circus Flora now has a permanent home in Grand Center.

Previously, the circus took place on a lot next to Powell Hall but is now one block southeast in permanent space thanks to financial assistance from the Kranzberg Arts Foundation.

“Anything new always takes an adjustment of everyone’s minds but it’s turning into a wonderful place,” explained Cecil MacKinnon about Circus Flora’s new home. MacKinnon is theater director and the longtime clown, Yo-Yo the Narrator, who’s replete with extravagant dress and white makeup.

One thing that may cause circus-goers this year to squeal with delight is the sight of 700-pound pigs performing the kinds of tricks that one might expect from a dog.

“It’s a wonderful act and it’s got incredible energy,” said Jack Marsh, Circus Flora’s artistic director. “It’s a man named Cousin Grumpy and the Pork Chop Revue is the name of this act.

“These 700-pound hogs … they jump over hurdles and stand on their hind legs.”

Returning to this year’s show are the Flying Wallendas, the Alanian Riders, and Circus Harmony’s St. Louis Arches. Trapezists, acrobats and even more acts will round out the show.

This year’s theme is “The Case of the Missing Bellhop.” It’s a whodunit story that takes place at the Balding Hotel, named in homage to Circus Flora founder David Balding. In the story, all of the acts – who are guests at the hotel – are suspects in the disappearance of the bellhop. Even the pigs, despite their heft, are suspected!

“This is a vital art in the world and it’s important that that there be an avenue for entertainment where you bring your child to see a live performance in front of you that’s not on a screen and that is human beings doing these incredible things,” Marsh said. “We adapt and we adjust, and we create new shows and have new ideas that we bring into the shows and new types of performers that might not have been in Ringling Bros. 50 years ago.”

Further expanding on the family-friendly nature of Circus Flora, MacKinnon noted that it’s a family-affair for the performers as well as young circus-goers.

“Kids tend to be brought up in the [circus world],” she said. “There’s a little 2-year-old now who gets out the juggling clubs for his uncle and, has a little pretend drill to fix things and he’s very busy with circus activities.”

Circus Flora runs April 19 – May 13. Special engagements include a sensory-friendly performance May 2 and a one-hour Little Top Performance April 27, May 4 and 11.

Listen to the Story on St. Louis Public Radio