November 27, 2020
By Yves Herman
GEMBLOUX, Belgium (Reuters) – The exotic animals are confined to small paddocks, the acrobats have been grounded, and the clowns aren’t able to make an audience laugh anymore.
The coronavirus has brought the curtain down on the Zavatelli Circus, at least for the time being.
Unable to travel or perform across Europe, the French family-run operation is waiting out the pandemic in a car park in the southern Belgium town of Gembloux – and quickly running out of funds to feed its animals.
“For us, the confinement is very difficult because we are not working. We have no cash flow,” said circus director Kevin Dubois.
The Zavatelli Circus typically pitches its 600-seater Big Top in 30 cities each year. But since March, when COVID-19 cases began rising in Europe, it has only been able to perform with a reduced capacity, or not at all during Belgium’s spring and autumn lockdowns.
The show features jugglers and acrobats, a conjuror, clowns and a tightrope-walker, and a menagerie including camels, llamas, buffaloes and ponies.
Now the staff are living in trailers in the car park, stopping their skills from going rusty with outdoor pratice sessions in the crisp Autumn air.
The animals are kept in enclosures under red-and white striped awnings, with straw strewn over the car park’s ground.
“Frankly, it is becoming an issue because we have 60 animals to feed,” Dubois said.
The cost of food for the animals runs to about 500 euros ($600) per week. There are also 23 circus staff to support.
“We don’t know how to make ends meet,” he said.
The Zavatelli Circus is one of three family operations that date back to 1800 and was once known as the Cirque de Paris.
The two others, Armanzo and Anderland, owned by the same family, are also on the rented site in Gembloux, about 50 km (30 miles) south of Brussels.
While the circus could return home to France, it would not be permitted to perform there either.
Belgium, like France, is under its second lockdown since the coronavirus epidemic hit Europe in February. Although shops are expected to reopen soon, cultural operations such as circuses in Belgium must remain closed until further notice.
Dubois lamented the lack of state financial support.
“We have not received any financial assistance (from the authorities). A lot of people gave us bread, carrots, they bring us seeds, hay. But in terms of money, we did not get anything,” Dubois said.
(Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Angus MacSwan)