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Friday 2 August 2019

Photo Essay

Circus Love

Taking the show on the road with the performing families of Europe

By Stephanie Gengotti

This project, called Circus Love, on the life of Europe’s family circuses started in 2016. The work is divided into chapters, each of which tells the story of nomadic families and artists who have broadened the concept of the traditional circus to turn it into an encounter between many disciplines and arts. They travel the world, performing at festivals, and they are the last heirs of an almost disappeared world.

The circus symbolises both freedom and enslavement: the liberty to not obey borders, and enslavement to relentlessly cold winters and summers in which the suffocating sun beats down on their caravans.

The performers work for themselves, their families and fellow adventurers. The circus involves not only art and creativity but also patience and preparation, physical training and manual labour; it consists of study, blood and sweat, working diligently for long days to come up with a new show. All this with perhaps just a few dollars in their pockets.

Chapter 1: The Brunette Bros.

Founded by two women, Lisa and Maria, who met 15 years ago in the Copenhagen suburb of Christiania, they define their company as “the biggest and the second smallest Circus in the world”. It is the first real micro-circus, in fact, transportable in two suitcases. Since getting together, Lisa and Maria have become mothers, and their children are already an integral part of the Brunette Bros. Marius, Maria’s son, is a born actor, while Ernesto, Lisa’s son, often sits in the front row and directs the music. Manu and Luca are the men of the community. Manu is also husband to Lisa and father to Ernesto.

Manu, Lisa and Ernesto travelling around Italy’s circus festivals.

Marius, aged six, and Ernesto, aged two, playing together.

Marius taking off his make-up after a show in the backyard of a bank, where the family was hosted for a few days. 

Marius taking an afternoon nap in the heat of the sun.

Lisa, Manu and Ernesto waking up in their caravan on a summer’s day.

In Colorno, Maria and Marius pose for a family portrait.

As Lisa wakes up, her son Ernesto wants to play.

Maria is trying on different clothes for the show.

Manu, Lisa, Luca and Maria pose for a portrait after their clown show.

Chapter 2: Les Pêcheurs de Rêves

This is a small family circus from France in which the husband-and-wife duo, Vincent and Florence, play the role of two married clowns called Za and Krapotte. In the performance, they parody their own life and marriage. Krapotte, like Florence, is the strong one in the couple, while Za does anything to please her. The family lives in Strasbourg, but are frequently on the road. Zia, 13, and Zorhan, 10, travel most of the time with their parents as the shows are mainly held during the summer. The technical department is run by Marco, a single father who travels with his daughter, Luna, 6.

Florence and Vincent wearing the clown costumes for their show ‘Nez pour s’aimer’.

Zoran and Zia travel with their family during festivals and performances all over Europe. 

Zoran juggles while Zia and a friend rest by the river.

Florence, Vincent, Zia, Zoran, Luna and Marco posing for a portrait in front of their trailer.

Florence sleeping with her daughter, Zia.

A girl from another circus at the festival comes to play with Zia and Zoran.

Vincent and Florence getting ready for their show.

Florence and Vincent kissing in the make-up room after the show. 

Florence and Vincent performing in their show.

Zia at the window of one of the company’s caravans, waiting for her parents to return from work.

Chapter 3: Teatri mobili – Girovago e Rondella

Born on the island of Rhodes, Marco and Federica became Girovago and Rondella, an itinerant circus duo wondering the islands of Greece, with their children. When their daughter Rugiada married Facundo, they created the Compagnia Dromosofista, together with her brothers Timoteo and Tommaso. They form a family of actors, musicians, puppeteers and sculptors from across three generations. They are now two companies who travel together and entertain audiences from within their small bus.

The Greek tour is over and the family is returning to Italy. Here, Tommaso stands on the boat’s deck.

Demetrio and Facundo in their cabin on the boat. 

From when the company was travelling around Greece. Anna and Irene are two artist friends visiting the family.

Rugiada with her son Basilio, waiting in the harbour of Igoumenitsa before departing to Italy by boat.

Facundo relaxing in the water with his son Basilio. 

Tommaso and Timoteo performing on the Teatrobus. 

Tommaso, Timoteo and Facundo outside the Teatrobus, about to start the show.

Chapter 4: Cirque Bidon

Created in the 1970s by François Rauline, this circus has been travelling around Europe for the last 40 years on horse-drawn caravans, 25km per day at a speed of 4km per hour. At the age of 20, François was in Paris working as a blacksmith, but he dreamed of a different life. It was 1968 and he left his work to travel. “Money was scarce, so I sold the bike and bought a horse and then built a caravan. This is how Cirque Bidon was born, with some friends and a classical dancer who dreamt of being a trapeze artist,” he says. Today he is accompanied by 15 professional artists, and when he arrives in the city his caravan is greeted with enthusiasm and curiosity.

Camille checking the lights before the show. The company is hosted for a few days in the train station of Budrio, a little village in the north of Italy.

The company posing for a portrait while rehearsing. From the left: Fan Fan, Enrico, Meal and Marie.

Manon posing backstage, just after the show. 

Leo and Camille are a couple. Camille is four months pregnant. Here they are outside their caravan.

Marie and Manon in one of the caravans.

François and Fred with, of course, a goose and a hen. The goose belongs to François, who is not part of the show but is very attached to the hens.

Renata and Enrico are a couple. Enrico is the main actor of the show, while Renata sells the tickets. 

Manon training her horse Luce in a nearby field.

The company moves from one village to another by horse-drawn caravans.

Enrico is the only Italian in the company; he is a comedian and performer.

The company in full.


Stephanie Gengotti has dual Italian and French nationality, although there are also Greek, Japanese and American family roots. Her home in Rome is the starting point for many of her explorations. She has completed a number of long-term projects, including the story of adolescent mothers in Naples, published in book form in 2014.


All Photographs Stephanie Gengotti/Institute