Circus ethics

Last night Esteban and I went to see the Cirque du Soleil’s show, “Kooza.” Like their other oddly named productions, Kooza was imaginative and visually stunning. Unlike the other Cirque shows we’ve seen, though, this one seemed over-the-top dangerous.

There was one act—two guys in opposing gyroscopic, rotating metal drums—I could hardly watch. One misstep, and the fellow on the outside would have been flung from the apparatus, 30 feet above the stage. I cringed when they brought out the jump-rope.

Fortunately, both guys survived.

Unfortunately, we did witness two minor mishaps. The high-wire guy caught himself, recovered, and pulled off the second leapfrog over his companion’s head. But the trapeze artist with the Ziggy Stardust wig was visibly injured. She carried on, but just barely.

During the intermission, I told Esteban I almost felt guilty for having paid money to watch people risk their necks. Later I wondered whether the acrobats would be doing this stuff anyway, circus or not. If I were hyper-coordinated, I might enjoy the challenge of balancing atop 15 chairs, or carrying someone around my neck as I ride a unicycle.

Much has been written about the ethics of using animals in circus acts. Should those concerns extend to people, too? At what point does safety override someone’s willingness to attempt a potentially deadly trick—especially for the simple amusement of others?

I’ll continue to support the Cirque du Soleil for its vision and artistry, but I hope they (and their artists) won’t push the envelope too hard in an effort to be ever more amazing. Balancing on six chairs is enough to impress me.

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