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The Gibsons at Ringling Bros and
Barnum & Bailey circa 1938
Quotes and stories about Knife Throwers in the Circus
Act, the [noun]
An act of skill where the artiste throws sharp knives at a target, usually their partner, who is standing
against a board in an attempt to outline the body as closely as possible. Circus Dictionary found
Donna Gustafson, Chief Curator of the American Federation of the Arts commenting on
IMAGES FROM THE WORLD BETWEEN: THE CIRCUS IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN ART.
Indeed, the circus is much more than popular entertainment. It is
an alternative to everyday life,
proof of mans tragic failings, as seen in the often bittersweet performances of the clowns, and
a vision of his rich potential, symbolized by the daring and skill of the acrobatic performers.
circus is distinct from the theater in that the dangers the performers face
are real, not imagined;
a momentary lapse of judgment, a failure of skill, or a chance occurrence can cause serious injury
or even death. As the acrobat swings from a great height, the partner of the knife-thrower takes his
or her place, the animal trainer enters a cage to face a group of big cats, the audience is by turns
awed, moved, frightened, and relieved. Marking progress by circular movement [and] never in a
straight line, each self-contained, individual act comes to a climax and a successful close. Life is
affirmed, control is maintained, and art triumphs.
Laurel Carter, in a Few Words From the Author, as she talked about
her book CIRCUS PLAY.Knife Thrower
Source Orca Teachers' Guide http://www.orcabooks.com
I came away with unanswered questions. How did the rider stand like
that on a horses back?
What if the trapeze artist missed the swing in mid-air? For hours, Id practice balancing on branches
or the cracks in the sidewalk after seeing the tightrope walker and I always fell off. The knife thrower
terrified me. I couldnt stand to watch him hurl knives at the woman who was his target, even though
he never hurt her but popped the balloons around her. When the clown came out they broke the tension.
We roared with laughter at their big feet and custom t-shirts and silly fights. Best of all, the circus ended with the greatest
mystery: shooting someone out of a cannon. To this day, I wonder how they do it.
by Marlene Tully
The cuts & stabs avoided
The luster in the blade's silence.
How providence is unable
of true volition.
The keen trick of it.
My paternal grandfather (well, step-grandfather actually) was a knife thrower with the Cole Bros. circus in
the 1920's and 30's. Never met him tho. My grandmother was a snake-charmer & "oriental" dancer.
Rietta Wallenda (6th Generation "Flying Wallenda") while performing
with Throwdini at the Moscow State Circus
"Throwdini, that's a great act you have there. You're wonderful. I'd walk a highwire 100 feet in the air
anyday but you'd never get me to do what you do in that ring."
By Guy de Maupassant
(First and last paragraphs only. See Source for full story.)
Monsieur," the old mountebank said to me; "it is a
matter of exercise and habit, that is all! Of course, one
requires to be a little gifted that way and not to be
butter-fingered, but what is chiefly necessary is patience
and daily practice for long, long years."
"She knows me, the jade; she is in the secret of my
work, of my patience, of my trick, routine, whatever you may
call it! She lives in my innermost being, and sees into it
more closely than you do, or than I do myself. She knows
what a faultless machine I have become, the machine of which
she makes fun, the machine which is too well wound up, the
machine which cannot get out of order--and she knows that I
CANNOT make a mistake."
Highly skilled and deadly, knife throwers and acrobats command the total respect of all the circus
performers and sideshow freaks, without exception.
Europa 2002: Circus
Stamps that include a knife thrower
'Circus: The Knife Thrower' by Antoni Jach
There stands the knife-thrower
Slowly blacking out
So he no longer sees the balloons
throws the knives anyway
There is sombre music around
The elephants are waiting to come on
With their tramping feet
Who will take his knives away?
THE KNIFE THROWER
A short story by Steven Milhauser
The 2 Zeros. Click on image for full size. Photos courtesy of Stan Brion.