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.
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.
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.
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.
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