TOB sat down with the organisers of Cirque du Liban’s Atlantis Circus, Thierry Antonios and Isaac Abi Sari, to discuss their achievements over the last eight years, the stresses of performing and their first year with the animals
First things first, Why a circus?
Thierry Antonios: There wasn’t a Lebanese circus, we would be the first one, and we felt a circus would be the ultimate event for event organisers.
Issac Abi Sari: We had the qualifications as performers. I have been a juggler, a clown and an acrobat. I used to do many acts in one night, until I broke my leg in an accident on the trampoline.
You don’t see many animal circuses these days, a lot of people would say it’s cruel. What do you think you would say to critics of this kind of show?
IA: First of all, I would like to say that Cirque du Liban had never any problems concerning animal cruelty. A circus was accused of this around three years ago but it wasn’t Lebanese. They used to beat the animals. This can make the animals fierce. We love our animals. We are there when they first open their eyes and when they go to sleep. We never hurt them during training and we keep them well fed. They are never fierce. You can go inside the cage if you want once the interview is done [needless to say TOB did go in the cage - with a lion].
But what about exploitation of the animals?
TA: We never force the animals to work; we treat them well and feed them. They get rewards for every trick they perform, and if one day they stop seeing that as an incentive and don’t perform we just retire the animal from the circus and they don’t have to perform any more, we
would never beat them.
Isaac, what is your favorite animal, and what would be the easiest to train?
IA: Lions and tigers are my sweethearts, especially the white tiger, but I find the African elephant the easiest to train. We don’t have one here, but I had the chance to train one in South Africa. I really don’t like the monkey, though. Don’t ask. There are many personal issues between me and him.
These are, after all, wild animals, what about safety?
TA: For the audience yes, but for the performers there are no safety nets. That is what people come to see, it’s the risk that makes it exciting to watch.
What are your aspirations for the circus?
TA: Making it an international attraction by getting more foreign performers. We have 15 Lebanese performers and 15 international ones who come from Colombia, Russia, Spain, Africa, and Australia. The international performers were hard to come by.
IA: Many are nervous about coming to Lebanon when there are problems in Syria.
What happens when you are under the weather and have to perform?
IA: You just have to perform no matter what. Actually come opening night, we would all be tired
from a month of preparations, by performing one forgets everything.
Do you imagine doing anything else?
TA: Not at all.
IA: Wouldn’t even dream of it. The circus is my life. It’s who I am.