When the Maharaja came to town

When the Maharaja came to town
Photo: DPA
Seeking an exotic respite from Germany’s dreary winter, Rhea Wessel takes a subcontinental sojourn with an Indian circus.

The temperature outside was a frigid -10 degrees Celsius when I visited the circus show “India” in Frankfurt. The production I was scheduled to see the previous day had been cancelled for “technical” problems – perhaps some of the trapeze equipment froze.

Naturally, I worried a bit that the show’s massive circus tent set up near the city’s main train station might let in some of the Arctic chill. But upon entry, a waft of incense-laden warm air set the stage for a two-hour visit to the subcontinent.

That journey – one for both young and old – was a colourful dance and acrobatics show with the exotic appeal frequently associated with India. Within the first five minutes, the choreographers juxtaposed two popular impressions of the country. First, a yogi sat in lotus position, index fingers and thumbs touching each other, as musicians provided live meditation music. Suddenly the curtain, which appeared to be handmade cloth, fell into the circus ring. The music changed, and the audience was transported to Bollywood with all of its glitz and showmanship.

This theme of contrasts continued in following routines: modern dance numbers with exotic undertones were placed between those featuring fire eaters, and a tightrope walker who balanced pots on his head. My favourite, however, was a pole climbing troupe, as I recalled a brief trip to India when a young man challenged a football player in our group to race him up a coconut tree, which don’t have branches. The Indian made it to the top in a matter of seconds while the football hero was humbled – and seriously scraped up by the tree’s bark.

The troupe featured a group of broad-shouldered male acrobats who scaled and wrapped themselves around poles in artistic unison. As they manoeuvred their way up and down, the young men struck yoga-like poses that would induce awe even when done on the ground. Latched to a pole and in midair, they were breathtaking body art.

But another act left me chuckling because of its sheer simplicity and charm. Artists sat in the circus ring and projected shadow puppets onto the ceiling of the circus tent. However, these weren’t actual puppets – they were created through finger and hand acrobatics. By combining fists, arms, fingers and palms in creative ways, the audience was amused by the shapes of birds, a donkey, a long-bearded imam, a snake dancer and an elephant grazing and feeding itself with its trunk.

With its modern sound and lighting, the circus show India appeals to all the senses. It leaves an entertainingly appropriate impression of a country trying to combine high-tech with its rich cultural traditions.

For most visitors, a brief visit to the travelling kingdom of the Maharaja will make it easy to forget the German weather waiting outside.

The show “India” runs in Frankfurt through January 24 and then tours other major German cities the rest of the year. Tickets start at €29.

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