Sawdust and popcorn scents fill the air. Clowns, acrobats, and magicians all appear.
All the classic elements of a circus are present as the audience is guided to the big top, except for one. Holograms have replaced the live animals.
In 1991, the German Roncalli Circus stopped using lions or elephants as part of its shows due to animal welfare concerns.
In 2018, it removed all live animals from the program.
Patrick Philadelphia, a 49-year-old circus manager, said: “It’s no longer appropriate for Roncalli Circus to show real animal in the ring.”
In recent years, the space available to circuses has become increasingly limited.
Philadelphia said that if you set up in a market in the center of the town, there’s no room for outdoor enclosures.
Nomadic circus life also put a strain on animals, such as horses that had to be loaded into wagons before being driven to the next city.
Philadelphia said that the circus was no longer a good idea for animal protection.
Roncalli was looking for ways to preserve animal magic for children. A show where Justin Timberlake collaborates with a Prince hologram triggered the idea of turning to 3-D images.
Why can’t we project an animal onto a screen holographically, like a horse or an elephant, if we can launch a person who is no longer alive? “That’s how the idea was born,” said Philadelphia.
Expect the unexpected
A steam train in Luebeck circles the ring to “Sunday Morning” by Nico and the Velvet Underground. Then, a brightly colored parrot appears.
An elephant replaces a bird with her baby, who stomps and trumpets at the audience. A herd of galloping horses then chases them away.
The design of the illusion was technically challenging since the audience at a circus sits in a circular arrangement rather than in theatres where they are seated in front.
The high-resolution pictures are projected on a fine mesh netting that surrounds the performance area using 11 cameras arranged around the ring of the big top.
The netting is almost invisible when the lights are turned off, but the images come to life.
Roncalli can now do some unexpected things with the new technology.
Toni Munar is the technical director at the circus. She said, “Whatever you imagine, an animator or graphic designer can create it, and then it can appear in a show.”
Good without Animals
It is no longer necessary to have animals around.
“I’ve never heard of Roncalli.” The only thing I learned was that Roncalli is an artificial world. “That was very important to me,” said Sophie Schult.
Schult’s previous visits to the circus had made a negative impression on her.
“I saw always the small cages in which they (the animals were) all kept.” “That is animal cruelty,” she said at the intermission.
The show still enthused Andreas Domke, his sons, and the audience despite the lack of actual elephants or lions.
The 39-year-old doctor said, “I don’t think (animals) are necessary because they try so hard to make the rest special.”
It also works wonders for older audiences. Mathias Martens (63) and Marina Martens (63) both said that the performance made them feel as if they were children again.
Mathias Martens said, “The acrobatics are incredible,” before his wife added: “You don’t need the animals.” You can see them at the zoo.