This summer the nomadic funfair village Carnivale, from Ell Circo D’ell Fuego / De Machienerie, traveled throughout Flanders, capturing the imagination of children and adults alike with their beautiful, delightful attractions. CircusMagazine takes you along for a glimpse behind the scenes. Prepare to be amazed by the adventures of this bizarre and wonderful company.
[This article was published in Dutch in CircusMagazine #56 – September 2018 // Author: Brecht Hermans // Translation: Craig Weston // Copyright: Circuscentrum – please contact maarten[at]circuscentrum.be for more information]
The funfair village Carnivale is inhabited by strange birds and extraordinary contraptions, born out of the workshop of Ell Circo D’Ell Fuego / De Machienerie. Beyond the standard circus machinery that comes out of the workshop, there are other dreams and mad ideas that take their final shape in wood and steel. Brothers and poet-tinkerers, Maarten and Joris Janssens were co-founders of Ell Circo D’Ell Fuego, and armed with screwdrivers and welding irons, they took the lead in conceiving and building Carnivale, a world of fantasy and wonder.
is an endeavour which gathers together a number of existing projects as well as new creations from De Machienerie under the same thematic umbrella. A map of the funfair village reveals evocative attractions like L’Imaginarium du Capitein Gustav II, Les Fabuleux Aventures de Marquisse D’Equivilly, the Animalium (a zoo of animals on the verge of extinction), and Les Géants du Galapagos. Carnivale is clearly an ode to fantasy. A funfair village steeped in nostalgia, with a nod to the past and a respectful bow to the hard working traveling circus families and carny workers of today.
All the attractions are linked to ecology. In the fishing tank, the children aren’t allowed to go for the fish, it’s their task to reel in the plastic. And in the same ecological way of thinking, all the attractions are propelled by hand, by man (and woman) power. In the turtle race Les Géants du Galapagos, moms and dads cycle like mad in an attempt to propel their children, mounted on a giant turtles, to be first to cross the finish line. At L’Imaginarium du Capitein Gustav II, a carrousel of sea creatures, it’s the parents who turn the wheel, together with the sailors in command, to keep the carrousel in motion. In Carnivale everyone has their place.
Wonder is the key in creating a shared interactive experience, and a constant reference to the ecological aspect of that experience happens in a playful way, bringing the message home to visitors young and old.
The Animalium, a zoo of animals that are virtually extinct, is a performance for children and adults from 8 years old and up, inspired by the menageries of the old days. In those exhibitions which traveled along with the circus, the public would gaze in wonder at wild animals and other exotic rarities. In the Animalium of Carnivale, Carl Haegenbeck is the presenter and shows us – in all exclusivity – the last surviving members of animal sorts on the verge of extinction. There is the Baji-dolphin, which was separated from his food supply by a large dam in the Yangtze River of China, or the Bald Ibis, plagued by war in the Middle East, and now almost completely wiped out, to name a few.
These and other animals are on exhibit in the tent of Haegenbeck’s Animalium, which opens its doors several times a day for performances, and for a look at the permanent exhibition. Haegenbeck himself also offers guided visits to the different mechanical animals, trying desperately to get across to the humans, true culprits in this ecological story, that they have to think seriously about their relationship with nature.
Standing alongside the gruff and charmingly frustrated Haegenbeck, is the lively Lady Livingstone, who is trying desperately to become Haegenbeck’s assistant. But it’s not sure she will get the job, after allowing the dangerous Lowie to escape from his cage. In her nervous attempts to get things right, Lady Livingstone brings warmth to the Animalium, and she forms together with the dour Mr. Haegenbeck a classic comic duo. It’s this duo which helps Animalium avoid a finger-pointing moralistic tone, what we get is an absurd performance set against the backdrop of serious ecological questions. It’s all driven by the beauty of nature, and loads of wonderful unknown details about the natural world.
Carnivale is also directly and personally involved in trying to repair a severely damaged ecosystem: Ell Circo D’Ell Fuego / De Machienerie supports the Borneo Rhino Alliance, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of the last Borneo Rhinos. This smallest of the Rhino species has lived for millions of years on this planet, but looks now to be headed towards a tragic end. In Malaysia there remain only two (recently a third one died). Voluntary donations from the visitors can be left in the big treasure chest at the entrance to the village, and are passed on to the Borneo Rhino Alliance. More information is available at www.borneorhinoalliance.org.
The work of De Machienerie never ventures far away from circus, object theatre or street theatre. The attractions of Carnivale each present a micro-world unto themselves. You don’t just step in and out of the attractions; each child gets their own mini-performance. At the flying carrousel of the Marquisse, children and their mothers get to meet the roguish Elliott, who with his drums and teasing jokes transforms each turning of the merry-go-round into a little cabaret performance. At L’Imaginarium du Capitein Gustav II, the little sailors are asked questions, and their answers are put in the logbook: “Do you like fish? Do you also eat fish? To where do you think we are sailing?” The fantasy of the children, as well as their parents, is constantly being called upon. The carny-folk, the players, are the ones who truly bring the installations to life.
And never more intensely than the moment when Radio Carnivale announces an emergency. A flea has escaped from the flea circus, or the rhino from the Animalium. Panic breaks out among the inhabitants of Carnivale, but together they always find a solution. During these ‘emergencies’ all the attractions stop in their tracks, and all attention is focused on Carnivale’s main square. It’s a moment when Carnivale becomes pure street theatre, adding an extra portion of magic to the total experience.