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In caravans and on horseback, on the road with an ecological circus

Châteaumeillant (Cher), report

On the roadside, motorists can’t believe it. Cars at a standstill, several of them grabbed their smartphones to immortalize the scene: six horse-drawn trailers moving slowly along the secondary road lined with fields. It’s not even 11 o’clock, but the sun is already beating down. Here and there, a few oaks provide welcome shade for the animals and their guides.

This unusual convoy is that of the Bidon circus. Since 1976, the troupe has traveled the roads of France and Italy. Francois Rauline, known as Francois Bidon »is one of its founders: seated at the front of the first caravan, he leads the way.

Until September, the circus will travel through the Centre-Val de Loire region, crossing Indre, Cher, Nièvre, Allier and Creuse. © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

He’s impressive, François, with his long white hair and his somewhat gruff look. In the 1970s, I was a bronze engraver in Paris. I dropped everything to go traveling », says the 75-year-old man, with sparkling blue eyes. On his way, he met a former trapeze artist who lived in the woods in eastern France. It is this love story, which looks like a fairy tale, that made him want to start a circus old » with horses and caravans. And this, while he had no experience in the field.

Francois Rauline, known as Francois Bidon has been on the road since 1976. © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

The love story finally ended, but the idea did not leave him. François went back on the road and formed his troupe with couples of musicians met during the trip, and his new companion. He bought a few horses, and made the trailers himself. Self-taught, the band of friends learned different numbers on the job. We couldn’t even juggle three clubs, people died laughing. They laughed more than in the traditional circus », laughs François. Hence the name, candy circus »which has remained ever since.

Forty-six years later, after thousands of kilometers covered, the troupe has changed a lot. The group of friends separated, new acrobats came, came, left. This year, the group (a dozen people) has been completely renewed. No amateurs this time, most of the artists went through circus schools or conservatories. But we don’t put technique forward, we don’t claim to be the bestemphasizes François. What we want is to surprise people, to touch them. »

Francois Bidon: What we want is to surprise people, to touch them. » © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

Praise of slowness

This year, until September, the Bidon circus will travel through the Centre-Val de Loire region, crossing Indre, Cher, Nièvre, Allier and Creuse. The pace of the tour is determined by the pace of the horses: they only cover a maximum of 25 kilometers per day, and stay several days in the same city. Equipment too heavy for them, or too cumbersome for the trailers, is transported upstream by a truck. A rhythm that forces us to celebrate slowness.

In trailers, they cover no more than 25 kilometers a day. © DR

Before, we moved like thisrecalls Daniele, 27, accordionist for the Bidon circus. It’s fascinating, it’s long, it’s opposite with the lifestyle “normal” where you have to go fast. Here, you have to plan a day to go from one city to another. This limit imposes a healthier rhythm on you, you are more in the present moment. » We disconnect, the artists like the people who come to see us, confirms Luna, a 28-year-old trapeze artist. It is a small bubble that moves at the speed of hooves. »

Unfamiliar with horses, the Circassians had to learn to guide them. © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

At the stroke of twelve, after a few hiccups – a mare who found herself free on the road and a caravan which almost ended up in the ditch – the procession finally reached Châteaumeillant (Cher), a small town of almost 1 800 inhabitants. There, the circus attracts all eyes. An elderly lady watches them pass in front of her window, a man leaning on his gate waves to them, two women approach to film them and greet them. We go where the people live »exposes François. I think it’s great to go places “lost”where there is not necessarily a theaterabounds the violinist Amandine, 32 years old. We meet people we don’t usually see, from social backgrounds we don’t usually mix with. It breaks down barriers. »

Juggling, trapeze, accordion… the talents of circus performers are varied. © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

Once in front of the main square, it’s time to unhitch the horses, mount the masts, the track, the bleachers… The artists will live there, in their trailers, for a week, before dismantling everything and heading back to Lignières (near of 1,400 inhabitants). In show business, it’s common to go 500 miles, play two dates and come home, deplores Ephraim, the tightrope walker [1] 26 years old. In these cases, we experience the representation less, there is less density. Here it is different. » In all, more than a hundred dates of the show – baptized Everyone has their own dreams » — are planned from May to September.

Cirque Bidon has planned more than a hundred show dates in 2022. © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

To live in a community

Until then, we will have to learn to live on the road, all together. At Cirque Bidon, unlike other circuses, everyone must participate. Everyone was assigned a horse a month and a half ago to take care of, everyone has to help with domestic chores, setting up the circus, dismantling… Not easy, when most members of the troupe have never harnessed a horse or climbed a mast in their lives.

Among the tasks of the circus: the assembly and dismantling of the circus. © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

The beginnings seem a bit difficult: bursts of voice sometimes escape from the trailers. But Circassians remain optimistic. We get to know each other, to see each other’s limits. It will unite us »assures Amandine. It is by doing that we become professional. The more we train together, the less stressful it will be. »confirms Océane, a 28-year-old juggler.

The Bidon circus installed in Châteaumeillant, at the end of May 2022. © Mathieu Genon/Reporterre

Before getting on the track, all their obstacles disappear — as if by magic. In a contagious good mood, the artists alternate between equestrian aerobatics, wire, aerial hoop and small sketches – all accompanied live by the musicians. We offer people images that make them dream, unexpected, without adding artifice or special effectssays François. The goal is to take people with us. » The formula seduces: at Châteaumeillant, young and old say they are seduced by the representation. And, perhaps even more so, by the universe offered to them. With bright eyes, some point to the trailers. As if they too dreamed of going on the road.

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