Dominique Jando began his involvement with the performing arts more than four decades ago, in his native France, when he first stepped into a circus ring as a clown at the legendary Cirque Medrano in Paris. After studying graphic design and film editing, he pursued an artistic and administrative career in both the theater and the circus. In 1974, as General Secretary of the Paris Cultural Center, he participated with Alexis Gruss in the creation of France's first professional circus school, and of Le Cirque à l'Ancienne, which eventually became the French National Circus and is considered the catalyst of the New Circus movement. He moved to New York in 1983 to join the Big Apple Circus, and served as its Associate Artistic Director for nineteen years. He then worked as Creative Director and Director of the San Francisco School of Circus Arts for Circus Center in San Francisco, from 2003-2004. He is now an independent circus arts consultant, writer, and is Vice-President and Artistic Director of Lone Star Circus Arts Center, a nonprofit organization based in Dallas, Texas. He is also Curator of Circopedia.org, an international online circus archive project of the Big Apple Circus. A circus and popular entertainment historian, Dominique has published several books and written many articles on these subjects, both in Europe and the US. The Russian translation of his Histoire Mondiale du Cirque is the official circus history textbook of Moscow's State Circus School and GITIS theater institute. He often lectures on circus and popular entertainment, teaches classical clowning at Circus Center's Clown Conservatory, and is a co-founder of the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain, one of the world's two major circus arts competitions, which is held each winter in Paris. Dominique is married to trapeze artist and aerial arts teacher Elena Panova. They presently live in San Francisco.
ephemera: How did you become interested in circuses and circus-related ephemera?
DJ: As far as I can remember, circus has always interested me. I was raised in Paris at a time when the city still had two permanent circus buildings, the Cirque d'Hiver, which is still extant and active, and Cirque Medrano, which closed in 1964, and was demolished in 1974. Both circuses changed their program every month, and Parisians used to go to the circus as they would go to the theater.
You have also to keep in mind that circus in Europe, especially at the time, was not considered a children show: If you went to an evening circus performance, there were practically no children in the house (notably at Cirque Medrano, which had a very faithful following of artists and intellectuals). My father, who liked circus like many Parisians, took me to matinees when he believed that there was something interesting for me to see. And instead of behaving stupidly, like many parents do when they take their kids to the circus ("Oh! Look at the little pony!"), he explained me the comparative merits of one act versus another.
So, I always perceived circus arts as an interesting thing. My first clear circus memory was seeing Buster Keaton at Medrano. I was five, I believe (Keaton performed three times at Medrano), and I didn't know too much who he was: he was not the comedy icon that he has become since these appearances at Medrano. He was by and large forgotten then, and I had never heard of him before, of course, but he impressed me enough to give me the desire to become a clown (which I eventually did).
In my teens, I used to go to the circus at least once a week, either Medrano or the Cirque d'Hiver. When you think that each production had twelve to fifteen acts, this made twenty-four to thirty acts that I saw each month. It's a lot! So, I became quite knowledgeable. I began also to meet and know these people. And I eventually studied clowning with some great clowns of the period, and made my debut in the ring of Cirque Medrano in 1963—just in the nick of time.
When I was fifteen, I bought the two volumes of Henry Thétard's "La Merveilleuse Histoire du Cirque", which had been published in 1947, and was the first truly comprehensive history of the circus ever published. I began to be interested in circus history, and started buying books on the subject, and researching circus history. I published my first book in 1977, "Histoire Mondiale du Cirque", which was an updated world history of the circus, thirty years after Thétard.
Then I started a non-performing career in the theater and the circus, in France first, then in the US, where I was Associate Artistic Director of the Big Apple Circus in New York for some twenty years. Meanwhile, I have published four other books.
ephemera: Talk about the circus ephemera you feature on the site? What draws you to it?
Circopedia is an on-line circus encyclopedia. Everything that pertains to circus history––whether famous acts, visual documents, interviews, or historical texts––belong to Circopedia. It is a live memory of the circus. The subject is huge, and the site will never stop evolving. It is a very long undertaking, and I put in it what I have available at any given moment, or what I, or some fellow historians, write for the site. There is no order or plan: I we had, we would still be writing and uploading material pertaining to the eighteenth century!
What matters to us is to give accurate information; what you see on the web is so inaccurate, sometimes downright false! Circus is not a well-known subject matter. We created the site to try to get the information straight––for researchers, journalists, historians, circus fans, or simply curious minds.
ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter as a blogger on this topic? How do you overcome these challenges?
DJ: I just mentioned the main challenge in my answer to the previous question: the sheer scope of the subject matter! The way to overcome this is not to panic, to be aware of the never-ending aspect of the project, and be patient… The other challenge is to find ancient documents. But we have a good network of fellow circus historians who research them for us, and many performers, retired or active, are also willing to help.
Another challenge is to locate untapped collections of circus videos and visual documents in library and museum archives, and find a way to get the right to use them. Libraries and museums (beside the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and the John and Mabel Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida) don't pay too much attention to circus or circus-related documents (in terms of just circus history). Therefore, they often don't know what they are, neither what is the actual historical value of some of these documents. We are working on tracking such documents, but it takes time and patience (and sometimes money!). It starts as a detective work, and then continues as a long diplomatic negotiation effort!
In any event, we have to remain conscious that this is a long-term project. Nothing is going to happen quickly––and again, it will never end.
ephemera: What are your favorite posts about ephemera?
DJ: Honestly, I don't have any. A post can be interesting to me if I find something––a rare photograph, or a old print, for instance––that I am looking for. But there is no single place where I know I could find something. Circus is not that easy to research: in matter of serious circus history, you really don't find much on the web. For current information, however, many of the blogs listed on Circopedia's "Links" page are quite interesting.
ephemera: What resources do you recommend to people interested in circus ephemera?
DJ: Circopedia is certainly the best. Beside that, it all depends what you are searching for. Circus is a very vast subject. If you are looking for old prints, for instance, and if you want to buy them, places like Abebooks.com, Livre-Rare-Book.com, Alibris.com, are very good resources. But if you type "circus" as a key word in any place like these, or on a search engine, you are going to have a zillion of answers that have nothing to do with the circus itself, or that are of no interest whatsoever. You have to restrict your search to a name or to very narrow information. The best resource actually, you have to have it in yourself: imagination and patience…
ephemera: Thank you, Dominique.