YESTERDAY'S TOWNS

HOWDY, MY NAME IS BILL STRONG, I'LL BE YOUR "24 HOUR MAN", ROUTING YOU INTO THE PAST TO SEE WHAT THE CIRCUS WAS IN DAYS GONE BY. IF YOU'RE LIKE ME, AND MISS WHAT IT USED TO BE, THEN COME ON ALONG AS WE GO DOWN THE ROAD FOLLOWING THE ARROWS BACKWARDS, TO "YESTERDAY'S TOWNS"! IF YOU HAVE CIRCUS RELATED PICTURES YOU WOULD LIKE POSTED, SEND THEM TO,,,,yesterday1@verizon.net,,,,AND WE WILL TRY TO FIT THEM IN. "24 HOUR MAN" WILL HAVE THE FINAL DECISION ON POSTING.

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Location: GIBSONTON, FLORIDA, United States

Three years at CWM made me a real traditionalist, and I keep remembering Bob Parkinson saying, "I want the people to see what the circus used to be, not what it is today. That's what this site is about!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

THE THREE BARS #3: CONCLUSION

Whether on the ground or high above the net, there have been many outstanding bar acts - especially during the first 4 decades of the century. It would be difficult to forget such peerless artists as Newell & Shevette, the Dionnes, Egeltons, Dimitrescus, Luppus and Poppescus; or the Peerless-Potters, Los Hermanos Atayde, and their equally famous relatives, the Ibarra Bros. - each of the last three mentioned having been at one time or other declared "the Codonas of the three bars."

But alas! All of those fabulous performers belong to the yesteryears - and today there is hardly a handful to take their places. Today one can count on one hand the number of bar acts which are worthy of mention - though not a single one of them could begin to compare with their predecessors. During the past decade can only be listed as worthy of Mention: The 3 Dinats, The 5 Petroffs, The Olvera Trio, The 7 Ivanoffs, The Maskatan Trio, The 4 Tschiskys, and The 5 Rodriguezes. We must exclude the 3 Ibarra Bros. from the list, inasmuch as, since switching to the flying traps, they no longer perform on the bars.

Among the modern chroniclers there are some who have reported that the Dinats are in a class with the Peerless-Potters; also that either the Maskatan Trio and the Olvera Trio can be favorably compared with the Ibarras. But such flowery reports have to be considered on the basis of the reporter's knowledge of the art. To be sure, any and all of the above named acts were good. In fact, today they can be considered outstanding. But among professionals who know the difference between adequacy and excellence, it would be difficult to find anyone who could consider any of those modern barrists in the same class as a Shevette, Diaz, Egelton, Dionne, Atayde, Ibarra, and many of the past masters.

During the past 3 or 4 years, each time the Russian Circus has presented the 5 Nikolayevs, either in the States or in Europe, chroniclers have written reams of superlatives about that "flashy" circular bar number - extolling the accomplishments of those Soviet performers as though they were out of this world. But such glowing reports represent more fiction than facts. The truth is: either those chroniclers don't know a good barrist from a bad one; or they were so dazzled by the whirlwind novelty that their better judgment gave way to their emotions.

There is no question that the Nikolayevs are "crowd-pleasers," and that the act is a welcome and worthwhile novelty. And no one can deny that when those performers go into their rapid finale, it does dazzle audiences. But thundering plaudits aren't always the hallmark of a performer's artistry - as can be attested by the success of The Beatles. As far as audiences are concerned, both The Beatles and the Nikolayevs are huge successes! - but that doesn't necessarily stamp either of them as "artists", per se.

When it comes to artistry on the horizontal bars, to consider The Nikolayevs in a class with such past masters as Shevette, Egelton, Luppu, Atayde or Ibarra, is almost sacreligious! Novelty, speed and stamina they have. But these can never take the place of performing excellence, artistic elegance and aesthetic form. Why there are today countless amateurs whose performance on the bars eclipse that of the best of the Nikolayevs! Matter of fact, it is doubtful if any one of the Nikolayevs could win a bronze medal at the Olympics!

By now it is almost inevitable that the reader will be asking: From among the multitude of barrists that have performed during the past century, which of the virtuosos can be considered "The King?" Also: which ones of the so many succeeded in executing the triple?

Unlike the flying traps where Alfredo Codona was almost unanimously called "The King" (and he still is considered so by many) no barrist has ever been regarded as such by his peers. For anyone to attempt to single out one performer as "The King of Barrists" would probably start an international controversy of such magnitude as that which occurred during the early 1930's regarding the leapers from the big springboard.

Among professionals there are varying opinions as to which of the past and present artists could be considered the greatest of barrists - for while many excelled in one phase or other, none was perfect in all phases. For example, Carpati, Dionne and Avolo were masters in their flawlessly execution of consecutive backs from bar-to-bar; Marcou was reknown for creating his "banalos" (fly-overs) and executing these in series with perfect form; Diaz was the greatest with the simple pass from 1st to 3rd, which requires such a formidable "countertiming"; Shevette and Court were famous for their dazzling, whirlwind combinations of passes and spectacular break-aways (fly-aways) with never anything less than doubles; Ignacio Ibarra for his flawless forwards from and to the same bar; Andres Atayde for his spectacular double from the 1st to 3rd bar; Luppu, Popescu and others, each for his particular speciality.

In short, while a dozen or so of the barrists of the past and present are rightfully entitled to the title of "great", not one of them can rightfully qualify to be considered "The King" - for none ever rose to such heights as to overshadow all others.

Some think that Andres Atayde and/or Phil Shevette deserve the honor because they are the only barrists who ever succeeded in passing from the 1st to 3rd bar with a double somersault, a feat considered more fiction than fact by most professionals. When Court was quizzed about this subject some years ago, he skeptically observed: "It's possible - but I would like to see it done."

The fact remains that it was done by Phil Shevette, (Newell & Shevette) as a regular routine presented at every performance during the month of May, 1896, when that team of barrists were billed at the Paris Folies Bergere. Also in 1892 at Woods' Gymnasium in New York City - during a contest between famous bar acts of that period.

Photo: THE ANDRES ATAYDE BAR ACT OF THE EARLY 1920'S, AS SHOWN IN THE 1946 ATAYDE CIRCUS PROGRAM.
PFENING COLLECTION.

This almost insuperable feat was also accomplished publicly and often during the years 1925 to 1928 by Andres Atayde (Atayde Bros.) when the latter was in his late teens in the early 20's - both in Europe and the Latin American countries. European circophiles of the 1927 period had an opportunity to witness the virtuosity of the Atayde Bros. when they performed in Lisbon, Madrid, Paris and other circuses of England, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries. Unfortunately, American circophiles were denied this privilege, for the Ataydes, somehow or other, never appeared in the States.

As of now, no other barrist has ever duplicated the feat - and it is doubtful that, considering the trends of modern times, any apprentice would be willing to submit himself to such a rigorous ordeal. But while the memory of either Phil Shevette or Andres Atayde performing this seemingly impossible feat lingers in the mind of those who happen to remember, it should be brought to mind that Aurelio Atayde, Andres' older brother, was even a greater barrist! The latter was not only a flawless performer, but his stamina and timing was prodigious! There was a time when he could consecutively execute as many as 40 "fly-overs" (banalds) without missing a beat! And while extolling the artistry of barrists, one must also list Patricia Atayde, sister of the Atayde Bros., who, like the Loretta Twins, was one female performed who could hold her own with most of the males!

Be that as it may, neither Phil Shevette's and/or the Ataydes' achievements, as outstanding as they are, would qualify either to be labelled "The King". To be sure, they were great. But not that much greater than a dozen or so others. And when it comes to listing those who succeeded in executing the triple from the three bars, the task is simplified because, incredible as it seems, actually only one barrist ever accomplished the feat as an integrated part of his regular performance.

It is true that Alfred Court (The Egeltons) when in his prime practiced the triple assidiously and daily for a period extending more than 6 months and covering more than 4000 attempts. To quote Court's own words from an excerpt on the subject: ". . . I practiced the triple with the 'mechanic', of course - at least a dozen times daily for more than 6 months. Towards the last I was able to successfully turn it on an average of 10 times out of 12 with the 'mechanic' completely slack. However, there were always those 2 or 3 times when, if it hadn't been for the 'mechanic', I would have killed myself. Therefore, I can never really say that I did the triple no more than can any other barrist or trapezist who has never mastered it sufficiently to execute it regularly as part of his daily routines in front of an audience."

The above quotation is a refreshing revelation. Coming from a "Marseillais" (most of whom are usually compared to Texans because of their natural tendency to brag) it could be called the epitomy of modesty. It also proves that the truly great artist is usually his own severest critic, who can afford to spurn any honor which he feels he doesn't deserve.

Court's commendable example must have set a precedent for the barrist fraternity, because such eminent artists as the Luppus, Egelmans, Poppescus, Ataydes, Ibarras, etc., have always refrained from claiming to have done the triple - even though it has been ascertained that, at one time or other, they, like Court, had succeeded in executing it in practice but never in public.

Nevertheless, one performer did itpublicly though not regularly at every performance. When Newell & Shevette appeared at the Paris Folies Bergere in 1896; and also before that when presenting their "bar and casting" act known as "The Orlos", Philip Shevette would, when feeling fit, often do the triple "fly-away" from the end bar. However, it must be pointed out that said bar from which Shevette executed the triple was set a foot higher than the conventional height - thereby increasing the space for his trajectory.

It is quite possible that if Court and some of our other famous barrists had duplicated Shevette's bar-height, they, too, might have been able to execute the triple publicly. The fact remains that, for the record, Phillip Shevette is the one and only barrist that can be recorded as having executed the triple from the bars.

Before concluding this installment on the bars, one has to pause and mention the triple from the "casting cradle" - which cannot be categorized either as a flying trapeze number - or a bar act. And, inasmuch as in one instance the execution of the triple included the use of a horizontal bar and a catch-trap, this particular one doesn't fall into the casting act category, either.

If the records are correct, the first triple ever done from either a fly-bar and/or a horizontal bar, was executed in 1905 by Dennis Sturk, in an act known as Sport Zeno's "Flying Through Space." This was a combination bar and trapeze number, in which Dennis Sturk, an outstanding barrist, did execute various routines on the horizontal bar anchored at the one end of a flying trapeze rigging. Incredible as it may sound today, Dennis Sturk, after executing a series of giant swings on the horizontal bar, would launch himself into a triple - to Zeno, hanging from the trap, catching the triple into a wrist-to-wrist catch!

Also, in that special category named the "casting act", wherein catchers hanging from "cradles" (usually set about 15 feet over a trampoline) send and catch their flyers from one to the other, should be mentioned "The 4 Casting Wonders". During the years 1922-23, the catchers on the two cradles were the Garee Brothers, Paul and Al; their leapers were Jess Detweiller and Harold Bennett. For two years, regularly and at every performance, Jess Detweiller executed the triple from the hands of Paul Garee to the hands of his brother, Al - making a wrist-to-wrist catch!

Two years later, during 1924-25, "The Casting Stars", consisting of Joe Kuntz and Jim McCall as catchers and Tommy Davis and Tommy Burke as flyers, also duplicated the feat!

Likewise during that same period came "The Casting Luckens", with the youngest, Roy Luckens, executing the triple between the hands of his older brothers, Harry and Gus!

Whether on the three bars or the casting act, there is no performer executing the triple these days. Perhaps some day there will appear over the circus horizon a "phenomenon" who will duplicate Shevette's feat from the horizontal bar - even without the extra height - and prove to the modern circophile that turning a triple from the three bars is not an impossible feat. But when one considers the present stage of decadence and also the ever-dwindling number of performers dedicating themselves to that particular phase of acrobatics, one can but ruefully conclude: "That'll be the day!"

In the meanwhile, we can only hope for a rennaissance of the triple bars - and pay homage to the many fine artists of the past and present who possessed the courage, determination, patience and endurance to master the order of rhythm out of which emerged performances of such perfection that they could conscientiously present them to the consideration of an oft-times unappreciative audience. And even though no barrist may again master the triple, may every circophile cherish the memory of those artists who no longer grace the circus ring with their presence, and may he show his appreciation of those who are still performing by giving them the generous applause they deserve.

HERE IS ANOTHER DIAGRAM I HAD FORGOTTEN I HAD IN MY FILES, THIS IS THE MORALES FAMILY.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Mr. Lee said...

phew! but very educational...

2/12/2008 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can say that again...LOL
fatima

2/13/2008 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MR...LEE...
YOU...FORGOT...TO...WRITE...
PEPE...LE...PEUW....LOL...

2/13/2008 2:40 PM  

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