Where to see circus shows in Paris?

6 years ago - Julie D.

Paris, the circus capital?

Is there not a little contradiction in assigning a place to the circus? After all, the circus is the realm of traveling circus tents, touring tightrope walkers and acrobats. The nomadism of the circus troops is well known. So why want to make Paris the "place" for circus’?

Paris is the capital of bohemia, forever associated with the city that has always reserved a warm welcome to artists. And it is also in Paris that the circus as we know it today was born in 1782.

The world of the circus, always magical, suspended between heaven and earth, navigating between the high acrobatics of the riders, the breathtaking jumps of the trapeze artists and the more down-to-earth entertainment of the clowns, inspired many Parisian artists or visitors to Paris.

The Impressionists paint as the circus becomes a fashionable pastime in Paris, and becomes more democratic. As of the Second Empire and under the 3rd Republic, that is to say the second half of the 19th century, painters like Seurat pay tribute to the artists of the big tent. This half-world in chiaroscuro that creates illusion and dream, inspires Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Chagall and Picasso through its ambiguity, feet in the sawdust of the track and the head in the stars.

Circus Ring

The English amphitheater of Philip Astley: the origins of the circus in Paris

With its round track, whose radius (13.5 meters) is determined by the length of the whip of the trainer, the traditional circus was originally a show of horse training. Its inventor is the Englishman Philip Astley, who became an entrepreneur in the entertainment business on his return from the Americas after the Seven Years' War, in 1763.

The Philip Astley Riding School soon became a resounding success in London. His reputation even reached the ears of Louis XV, at a time when the French aristocracy fervently became infatuated with all that is English. This Anglomanian fashion adopted English clothing and even the French nobles  started collecting English hunting dogs and horses. Louis XV invited Philip Astley to Paris in 1772, and Astley never left again.

Philip Astley joins forces with Antonio Franconi, an Italian showman iving in France. Their flourishing association gives the circus its nobility and the Franconi became the first circus dynasty, presaging the rise of Bouglione, Zavatta, Medrano and Fratelli.

Philip Astley and Franconi are both buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, as it should be for French legends.

Trapeze Artist in Paris Circus

Where to see circus shows in Paris?

In Paris the circus amazes big and small: it does well in the City of Light.

We are spoiled for choice: several theaters host international touring troupes, others, like Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione, have elected residency in Paris and regularly present their latest creation.
For a complete list of circus performances, see the Officiel of events in the "Theatre" section, sub-section "Circus and other shows".

Cirque Hiver Paris

The trail of Stars in all its splendor: the cirque d’Hiver Bouglione

We cannot talk about circus’ in Paris without mentioning this institution. Rue Amelot, in the 11th arrondissement, the majestic Cirque d'Hiver is listed as a Historic Monument. It is the oldest "circus" in the world, if we mean by circus a building in solid dedicated exclusively to this entertainment. Its foundation is a characteristic of its time, the dazzling Second Empire, which dazzles with more flamboyant entertainment.

It was Prince Napoleon Bonaparte himself, future Emperor Napoleon III, who inaugurated it in 1852. As tradition, the Cirque d'Hiver is firstly a theater of elaborate equestrian shows, prized by the aristocracy who enjoyed the prowess of beautiful horses trained with immense expertise.

But soon the Cirque d'Hiver diversified its attractions, and became a real circus, with acrobats, jugglers, magicians, clowns, etc. It hosts many "world premieres": it is at Cirque d'Hiver that Jules Léotard, the first performance of the "flying artist", inventor of the trapeze took place in 1859.

The Cirque d'Hiver was also the backdrop for Carol Reed's Trapeze film with Gina Lollobrigida, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. A film in which Achille Zavatta plays his own role, and where one of the characters is called Bouglione...

Today, it remains the symbol of the prestigious traditional circus, and hosts many shows and meetings. It still belongs to the Bouglione family, who produce a new show every year. Until March 2018, it is Exploit (trailer here).

Bouglione Winter Circus 110 rue Amelot, Paris 11th - metro Filles du Calvaire, line 8 - virtual tour of the circus on the Facebook page

Circus Acrobats

Annual circus meetings in Paris

The circus feels at home in Paris: several annual events are full of pirouettes during venerable festivals, some of which exist, no less, for several decades.

Circus Festival of Tomorrow, end of January – start of February

The 39th edition of this prestigious festival will take place from 1st to 4th of February 2018, at Cirque Phénix, in the 12th arrondissement. Each year, young artists, advanced, but still little known come to present their latest creations in front of a demanding jury and a fascinated public. The most talented are rewarded with a prize that often helps propel them to the forefront of the international scene.

Cirque Phénix, with 6,000 seats, is famous for big shows: apart from the Circus Festival of Tomorrow, it hosts throughout the year shows and creations. Its impressive vault, without any pillars, allows all the spectators to enjoy the spectacle without visual hindrance.

Circus of Tomorrow Festival - Cirque Phénix, Reuilly Lawn, Paris 12 - Metro line 8 Liberté or Porte Dorée - +33 1 45 72 10 00

Animals are not allowed - Cirque Phénix, because of its powerful sound system, is not recommended for babies - available: noise reducing helmets and booster seats - accessible to people with reduced mobility (contact the circus a few days before your visit).

The Atelier du Plateau is doing its circus, in October

For three weeks in October, from Thursday to Sunday evening, the Atelier du Plateau is doing its circus, and this since 16 years. This series of shows focuses on new encounters and magical moments between circus artists and musicians, actors, dancers, clowns and acrobats. In an old factory with excellent acoustics, and which can accommodate aerial equipment under its ceilings even in height, improvisations and daring and creative weddings.
L'Atelier du Plateau, 5, rue du Plateau, 75019 Paris - Jourdain metro - +33 1 42 41 28 22 - full price € 13, under 12 years € 6 - see the program of the 2017 edition.

Village de Cirque, Reuilly Lawn, in October

Every year in October, the Reuilly Lawn in the 12th arrondissement welcomes the Circus Village for a happy five-day festival. Under the big tent, the festival gives pride of place to young touring troupes, for astonishing performances of virtuosity and freshness, that one leaves with a big smile.

Circus Village - Reuilly Lawn, Paris 12 - Porte Dorée Metro - see the program of the 2017 edition.

Parade (s), street arts festival, Nanterre
If you are in Paris in late May and early June, you must run to Nanterre to attend Parade (s), the festival of street arts. Every year for no less than twenty-eight years, this free festival opened to all, hosts dozens of artist companies. The 2018 edition will take place on June 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Parade (s) - Nanterre, all over the city - see the 2017 festival teaser.