I got the call in ’88. My assignment was to shoot a French circus pitched somewhere on the outskirts of Copenhagen. A neo-Spartan met me on a strip of wasteland and marched me to the general’s HQ. Through the haze of Turkish tobacco I could make out the glint of the master’s gecko eyes. Perching on a stool at his feet I listened intently like Hopper hanging on to Brando’s every word. Pierrot ‘Bidon’Pillot sank my offering of malt whisky and poured out his story.My first impression of the show is impossible to shake. The 5-piece orchestra had finished rehearsing and the violinist stepped into the ring. A Bouinax (metal clown) brought him a motorcycle and linked a rope to the rear wheel. The violinist mounted, still in his dinner jacket, throttled the revs, let go of the clutch and sped skywards backwards, to the rafters... and stopped. For a moment he hung there, swinging and suspending belief. Letting go of the brake he plummeted earthward like a kamikaze dive-bomber. Breaking the fall with his face he shrugged the motorbike from his back and stood up - this was not in the script. Re-mounting, blood streaking from his cheek, he thrust his hand in the air and shouted ‘Encore!’ Second time around he stopped with his nose an inch from the mat, dismounted and strode-off.
Archaos was a magnet for disparate artists - perfectionists who held the three-ring convention in contempt. Clowns beat slapstick with a ballistic baton while juggling chainsaws. A trapeze artist serenaded ravens as she traversed the wire. Acrobats revealed more than just their talent- nothing conformed to the stereotype. Everyone took an active role in the show: the chef doubled as a psychotic-butcher while the crew clowned as Bouinax. Pierrot provided some of the world’s finest performers an arena to expose their unique talents. Trapeze artists, acrobats, magicians, jugglers, cyclists and clowns re-defined their genre, and circus.
Pierrot was more than a Patron, impresario or Ringmaster; he was the forefather of contemporary circus. Archaos broke all the rules whilst respecting the spirit of ‘Le Spectacle’. Pierrot did the unthinkable - he made circus contemporary, sexy and cool. No Fit State, Circus Oz, Cirque De Soleil, the residents of Las Vegas et al, all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Pierrot's innovation and trailblazing.
¡Vive les clowns!