Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The clown and the contortionist
From today's Irish Independent:
By Susan Daly
There are days when it's tempting to run away and join the circus but for most the fantasy is rarely realised. Not so for one girl who travelled 8,000km to join the circus -- and found love in the process.
Contortionist Wang Dan (Dani) and resident clown Otto currently open the Fossett's circus show with a joint juggling trick. What the crowd don't know is that the performers are a romantic double act outside the ring. Although they make an odd couple in their stage outfits, Edward Fossett (aka Otto) and Dani are a handsome couple in their civvies.
"Lots of people meet through work," says Edward (22). "It's just that our work isn't like most people's."
Edward is heir to the Fossett's family circus, the world's oldest continuously-touring show. Dani (21) came to work with them for a season from an acrobatic school outside Beijing, China, in 2006. Arriving with two fellow contortionist Chinese friends, she experienced serious culture shock.
"We couldn't speak English then, only a tiny bit, so we three just kept together and practised together," says Dani in English now tinged with a Dublin accent.
Edward was in his Leaving Cert year at the family's home base in Lucan, Dublin, when Dani arrived but would visit the circus wherever it was at weekends to put on his clowning hat.
"We began to talk to each other backstage during the show," he explains. "When you're on the show, it's like a little community, it binds people together. We actually got together on my 19th birthday -- Dani would have been 18."
But the course of true love never runs smooth. When the season ended, Dani had to return to China with her friends. "We were never off the phone were we, honey?" Edward says, turning to her. A year later, she was asked back by Fossett's to resume her popular contortionist act.
"The first time, 2008, when I came back on my own, I did feel lonely," says Dani. "But I am close to Sonia and Sarah (Edward's two younger sisters). It feels like I have friends here and a boyfriend here, so it is much, much better now."
She misses Chinese food. "I don't know how to cook though," she laughs, "but Edward is very good at it -- I like his pasta."
While our photographs of them in costume would be an extraordinary addition to most family albums, Edward and Dani's relationship is not entirely breaking with tradition. Edward's grandfather, Teddy Fossett, married an aerialist from Czechoslovakia.
"My mum came to Ireland with her parents and sister in the late 1940s to come work with my father and uncle," says their son Eddie, current MD of Fossett's and father of Edward (having an Edward in each generation also runs in the family). "She fell in love with dad and never left."
The close-knit and nomadic nature of circus life can be difficult for outsiders to understand or infiltrate. "Saying that, circus children don't necessarily fall in love with other people from the circus," says dad Eddie. "My wife was a wages clerk in (plumbing merchants) PJ Matthews when I met her."
Son Edward agrees that Dani and he are lucky. "It's true that it's not very easy to find someone of the same age who you are attracted to working in the whole circus area. But it would be harder if I went out with someone who wasn't in the business because I'd be away from them the whole time."
Conversely, working and living in the same quarters can be a hard ask. "Sometimes we go have a cup of coffee together in the nearest town, go shopping for an hour, yeah, for hairspray!" says Edward, referring to Otto's Jedward-style quiff. "Just to get off the site and away from everybody on our own is nice."
The pair also share an understanding of the hard work required with performing for a living. Dani attended a live-in performance school in China from when she was five years old. She would get up at 5.30am and practise until 8.30pm, with just breaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"That was tough," she says. "When I was seven years old, I said, 'I don't want to go there any more' and my dad said, 'Okay, we won't'. But I decided to go back after a few months and stayed until I was 17."
Edward's earliest memories are of dad Eddie training circus animals. He thought he would follow in his dad's footsteps and had his own pony act in the show at the age of nine. When Edward was 14, the resident clown broke his arm and he had to step in. "I was crapping myself the first day but I got through it okay. The make-up helped -- it's a bit of a mask."
He got the clowning bug and, when Fossett's decided not to continue with animal acts, being the funnyman became a full-time career.
As with many family businesses, it is presumed that Edward will eventually take over the reins from his father -- especially since circus performance was designated an official artform in 2003.
"That has implications for Dani and I," he says, "I'm not a normal artist -- I'm the boss's son. As I get older I have to take on more responsibility. The longer Dani stays here and the closer we get, the more responsibility she will have to take on."
As for running away from the circus, well, Dani mentions she would like to go travelling at some stage.
"I would love to go away for a year too," says Edward. "But maybe to another show to see how they do it."
Once a Fossett ...
FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/when-the-contortionist-met-the-clown-it-was-love-at-first-sight-2239480.html