The Archaos Story

By Sophie Kennedy Martin & Adrian Evans

In the late 1980s a circus called Archaos took the British public by storm. Their shows were noisy, smelly and confrontational, devised by individual and outspoken people who ordinarily the general public would rather step over and avoid than pay money to. The critics described its success in terms of a break with tradition, “the anti-circus circus,” enthused The Irish Times, “it rewrites the rules as it pays tribute to circus tradition,” admired The Age, “a devil’s carnival,” warned The Daily Mail, “a real people’s theatre,” decided the Guardian. 

Archaos had its roots in the French horse-drawn Cirque Bidon, a twenty-strong collective of young people who all took the surname Bidon and were united by a desire for adventure and life on the road. In the mid-1970s and early ’80s their convoy of horses pulling nine magnificent gypsy caravans traipsed the villages of Southern France and Italy. There was no boss, no producer, no contract, no box office, no tickets. Open-air shows were given free, a hat was passed round at the end and the audience was encouraged to give whatever they could. One of the artists was Pierrot Bidon, a tightrope walker, clown-clarinetist and chicken-hypnotist.

When Cirque Bidon folded, a number of companies emerged from the ashes and one of these was Archaos, Cirque de Caractère, the brainchild of Pierrot and his then wife Martine, a trapeze artist. They wanted a name for their new group that started with the letter A so that they would always be at the top of event listings. Apparently, the “art” and “chaos” fusion was inspired by Archarios, the title of a Greek book meaning beginner. There is no doubting however, the intention of the subtitle. It pronounces loud and clear that this is a circus with attitude.

The initial pair persuaded their friends Brigitte and Gilles (who went on to establish street theatre company Transe Express) to share their vision, and a few phone calls later so did Patou and Franz together with musicians Pierre, Laurent, Jeff and Mourad (later known as Les Marcel Burins). An advert for circus artists yielded the juggler Lolo, the clown Maurice and Merlouche on trapeze. Franco Dragone (a director of the fledgling Cirque du Soleil) was drafted in to provide shape and structure.

The first show was given in Nimes in 1986 in a 300-seat blue and white tent financed through the generosity of Martine’s parents; the truck to get them there was purchased with Pierrot’s share of the sale of Cirque Bidon.

Cockerels and Chickens


Their mascot at this time was a cockerel, and chickens (and feathers) featured as part of the first show, which opened with Pierrot ascending a wire to the top of the tent muttering self-deprecating obscenities, and also featured Lolo with his dog Dracula and Isa performing on horseback. The style of the show swung between old-school poetic and a new punk image characterised by Patou and Pierrot’s maniacal Clowns de Tole, who had pieces of corrugated iron strapped to their back marked with the names Bibitte and Coucouille – which translates roughly as Di-dick and Bo-bollocks.

In the early days, just like their antecedents, Archaos operated as a tribe with no leader with both creative and business decisions made during group meetings. Everyone in theory had an equal say. But some were reluctant to buy into the artistic vision of an urban form of circus, celebrating the industrial, harnessed to rock music.

Pierrot had a respect and love of circus skill but was scornful of the stereotypes of traditional circus and the way that it had lost touch with its audience. “New circus is more traditional than other circus,” Pierrot argued, “ordinary circus is dull.  People are in it for the money and the spirit suffers.  What we want to do is capture the spirit and passion for performing. No one here was born in a circus; we all grew up in the street.”

By 1987, Archaos had established a permanent home with a circus school in the town of Alès in the south of France, parking their caravans and setting up workshops in the grounds of a disused glass factory. Jean-Pierre, an ex-ladies’ hairdresser, showman and docker prepared meals in a communal kitchen; Max sorted the tents and Dirk fixed the trucks. The company grew rapidly, performing to great acclaim on the fringe of the Avignon Festival where they were signed up by André Gintzburger, an influential circus and street arts agent.

Chainsaws and Motorbikes

The 1987 season was performed in a new 650-seat Chapiteau des Cordes, a tent made of over 4,500m of knotted white rope. Open to the elements, the 25-strong company performed inside, outside and on the surface of this vast spider’s web. Michel Dallaire, another founding member of Cirque du Soleil, directed a show which featured Stephane’s motorbike stunts; the gutsy bravura of Isabelle on the cloud swing; rousing rock music from Les Marcel Burins, climaxing in Franz’s thrilling ascension to the top of the cupola via chainsaw and motorbike.

Although Archaos still met and acted as a collective, a hierarchy was beginning to evolve. Pierrot led on creative and PR while Guy Carrara, a recent addition, focused on the business side. Although very different in character, these two men seemed to live parallel lives. They were both born in 1954 on New Year’s Day, they had both been involved in horse-drawn troupes and they both went on to marry Brazilian sisters who performed an aerial act in the show

At this stage, the company motto was, “everything we say, we do; everything we want, we find; everything is important, but we don’t give a damn!” Guy mortgaged his farm to commission an ingenious hinged tent conceived by the engineer Serge Calvier. Nicknamed Le Capote (the condom), the semi-spherical structure completely covered the Chapiteau des Cordes.

In 1988 Archaos was picked up by young producer Adrian Evans for the first ever Festival of New Circus (1988) on the South Bank. A ‘no animal’ policy meant that the hens, pig, horse and dog had to be left at home. They were more than made up for by Raquel and Michael’s acrobatic routines and a series of running gags involving the ring-boys Nordine, Filipo, Kamel and Hervé. Not to mention Jean-Pierre’s appearance in a bloodied cook’s apron, pork chops dangling from his string vest, in a parody of the circus strongman. Archaos proved to be the sensation of the festival, returning later in the year for an extended run on Clapham Common.


UK press relations were handled by Mark Borkowski. It turned out to be a PR marriage made in heaven. His maverick approach emphasised the raunchy and risky as well as the company’s unusual lifestyle and characters. Inspired by PT Barnum, he and Pierrot used the media as a canvas to paint pictures for the potential audience. Mark also insisted on taking journalists down to Alès to experience “the life”, and had at his disposal stunning images by a new generation of photographers: Ian Patrick (who felt compelled to sleep in the tent for a week to get the shots he wanted), Philippe Cibille (who converted from jazz photographer to circus photographer when he saw Archaos) and Gavin Evans (who created many of the most iconic Archaos images).

Mark generated reams of newsprint and hours of coverage on TV and radio, selling the idea that Archaos gave a Gallic shrug of the shoulders to authority and that they would be arriving in Britain like invading Vikings. Between them, he and Pierrot dragged Archaos out of the culture pages of the media and onto the front pages. When their chainsaw-juggling act was reported banned, crowds turned up just to see this dangerous circus arrive. With these apocryphal stories mixing humour and horror, the Archaos legend was born.

In 1989, a new production called The Last Show on Earth, with music by Les Marcel Burins, opened in Alès and then toured extensively in France where it earned the company the Grand Prix National du Cirque. In August, Archaos returned to the UK to play at the Edinburgh Festival, where they were awarded “Best Show on the Fringe”. They then moved south to London for sell-out runs on Highbury Fields and Clapham Common

Pierrot had stopped performing and was now involved in the full-time managing and directing of the company. Guy ran the finances, sorted the contracts and wrote bids for government funds. Success was beckoning and with it, a move away from the old collective ethos. On a 35-for, 25-against margin Pierrot and Guy were elected as the group’s official management. The legal company they set up was called BATR Productions, and it was awarded significant new funding from Jack Lang’s Ministry of Culture.

Franz left after a dispute involving royalties over his Mad Max chainsaw and motorbike act, disappointed not to have been given recognition for his part in the creative process. Corrugated iron clown Patou and director Michel Dallaire also parted company. When Lolo the juggler left, he observed astutely that, “as the shows got better, the parties got worse”.

In their place came a new thrust from the first graduates of France’s new national circus school, the original and very talented Didier, Hyacinthe, Jean-Paul, Johann and Danielle. Léon & Filipo inherited the roles of Clowns de Tole, and a major new character arrived with Pascualito, a slack-rope walker, flying trapeze catcher, strongman, fire-breather and all-round homme de cirque. His trapeze act with Sofie and Lionel using a forklift truck was pure Archaos, as were Jean-Pierre lewdly scrutinizing Manu the contortionist under a magnifying glass; Martin and Bina’s erotic acrobatic duet; Danielle’s operatic trapeze; and Felicity and Hector sparring on unicycle and stilts with elements of tango and bullfight.

Small, fat, hairy wino

New characters emerged such as ring-boy Nordine’s cod ballerina with a flowerpot strapped to his head, and Ratze, Prolix and Lee’s anarchic, overall-wearing workmen. Juggler Olie stunned audiences with his ability to light a cigarette by throwing a lighted match behind his back, and acrobat Raquel perfected the wardrobe malfunction that resulted in the nightly loss of her bikini top.

More than anyone else, Pierrot had the authority of circus tradition and the strength of character to manage the psychology of the rapidly expanding group. He was a man of immense charisma, described as an “arch maverick,” a “rough diamond,” not to mention a “small, fat, hairy wino with the timing of an angel”. His personal courage, willingness to take risks, his openness and his ability to adapt resulted in the creation of a raw group of performers and technicians, whose fertile imaginations he always encouraged.

While the earlier shows were team efforts, Pierrot now decided what material stayed, selected from the company improvisations, ordered the programme and was always the focus for the company’s daily meetings. His magic was to create new scenarios for circus and to effect subtle changes to existing acts, weaving stories between the performers and their equipment, placing circus acts in a context that required interpretation where none was needed before. His flair for witty shifts in perspectives within the show, and the idea that nothing should happen in isolation on stage, contributed to a house style where anything could happen at any moment, and usually did.

Glastonbury Festival

In 1990, with The Last Show on Earth playing to rave reviews at the Adelaide and Melbourne festivals in Australia, Archaos rehearsed and opened a new show with a troupe of sixty, driven by French indie guitar band The Chihuahuas. Called Bouinax, Archaos slang for bodger, the show opened at La Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris and then went on to play in Barcelona.

A six-month tour of the UK was launched with a headline appearance at Glastonbury Festival, becoming the only non-music act ever to be given this status. Their spectacular kicked off with Didier’s high wire walk to the apex of the Pyramid Stage and ended with explosions and a pair of stunt cars plummeting thirty metres to the ground. Archaos is the only company in Glastonbury’s history to have performed on three successive nights on the Pyramid Stage. Then, in the company’s new tent, nicknamed Le Fanny, which seated 1,250 people facing each other on huge grandstands, the show toured to Manchester, Glasgow (with a show given inside the Special Unit of Barlinnie Prison), Edinburgh, Bristol and London (a massive 57 sell-out shows on Clapham Common).

The original company returned from Australia and went on to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Galway, Brighton and Birmingham before joining up with the Bouinax troupe for a combined show with over 100 performers called Compilation. This show was the ultimate in Archaos madness: creatively exhilarating yet, despite selling every ticket, an economic disaster. The show was filmed by the fledgling TV production company, Archaos Image, and then broadcast the following year in the traditional circus slot on Christmas Day. The year finished with a special adaptation of Bouinax at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. Archaos were gaining in legitimacy as well as notoriety.

Some enduring images from Bouinax remain: bald-headed Margot’s fish and whips; Ramon swinging crazily from the arm of an old Russian crane then ballet-dancing with Cyril the Dog Man; Alex and Dom getting it on balanced on the top of a driverless black cab; Jean-Paul’s lost explorer performing acrobatics astride a handlebar-less bicycle; Johann and Hyacinthe getting tied in knots; Natalie driving her seashell Mini half-filled with water; Dominique unceremoniously bundling wheelchair-bound Jean-Claude, the king of the ring, into a dustbin; Stephan’s Robin Reliant which split in two; Eric’s seriously insane beheading; Didier’s wheelie on the high-wire; Peter clad in little more than a fig-leaf balancing Gelbrich wearing even less; and last but not least, there was Gemma’s tiny radio-controlled truck which fought all the wheeled horrors that Jason’s head-bashing, mutant punk could throw at it and, to the delight of the audience, always won.

Zanouk al Habib

During the UK tour, hardly a day went by without something about Archaos appearing in the press. Pierrot encouraged Mark to surround the circus with myths, legends and compelling stories which sparked outrage within the moral majority and excited those with an open mind. Mark was a genius at conjuring stories and he had the hacks salivating for more. Stunts were orchestrated (the car cut in half on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile was a classic) and photo-shoots too (usually of Gelbrich or Pascualito with very little on). To promote the 1990 Edinburgh run, Mark’s press release included a puppet decapitated head in a jack-in-the-box which left most critics in a state of quasi-cardiac arrest. There were some amazing stories too; none better than that of Zanouk al Habib, the 6’9” Iraqi strongman who weighed 27 stone, bent lamp-posts in his act, and decided to give up the circus to return to fight alongside Saddam.

On top of all that, Archaos was too dangerous for here, too corrupting for there. Jason’s accident involving a chainsaw in Stockholm produced international headlines. Back in the UK, they swung from sympathetic (“Ouch! That’s saw”), to poetic (“Juggler didn’t see saw”), to outright hysterical (“Chainsaw juggler in act horror”). Best of all, when Bristol’s city elders decided to ban Archaos, Fleet Street swooped on the story. Fortunately, a Plan B emerged. Gerry Cottle came to the rescue by commandeering a private site on the outskirts of town. The media frenzy that had been whipped up by the ban led to a three-week run of sell-out performances.

Their British debut in 1988 had launched Archaos on the international scene, secured their reputation within France’s Ministry of Culture and established long-term relationships with Mark the publicist and Adrian the promoter. It also provided them with new recruits. At the end of their first Clapham Common season, street performer Jason and then lighting technician Sankey followed the troupe to Paris becoming the first of what were to become over a hundred British circus runaways.

The reasons why people joined Archaos varied widely. Most of the professional circus acts were negotiated and booked prior to rehearsals, with France’s national circus school providing a major source of fresh talent. The circus world is small, and news of distinctive acts travelled fast. Cloud-swinger Sue recalls her brief conversation with Pierrot: ‘Ah yes, the girl with the black hair. Bring your rope and come to France’.

La Vie

Most joined to be part of the lifestyle, la vie, and once the show was on the road street artists and circus performers introduced themselves and impromptu auditions were held in the communal kitchen-bus, or at after-hours parties. One of those who auditioned was Sean, a street BMX biker from Edinburgh who demonstrated his tricks after the show one night and was in the show the next day. Stunt rider Leif had a similar experience. Cyril was a journalist who came to interview Pierrot; he showed off his impersonation of a dog running on all fours and was welcomed with open arms. Ex-piano tuner and busker Rockin’ Robin auditioned and was recruited for his physical size rather than for his musical ability; Annabelle and Dominique’s skill for eating razor-blades were swiftly incorporated. The practicalities of life on the road put a premium on mechanics so when Kees, Frank and Sean stepped forward they were hauled on board immediately. So was sculptor Pete, re-christened Boom-Boom, when he showed a penchant for pyrotechnics.

Mischa came across the group at Glastonbury Festival where he rigged the Pyramid Stage for Archaos. He remembers: “Pierrot called me into his caravan, there was whisky, and he offered me a job as part of the troupe. He said, 'in Archaos, we're part of a family and all of our twines are interwoven into a rope. It's a strong rope, and we'll always hold you in it.'  And that was good enough for me. I had another glass of whisky, and I was a bouinax."

Boris, the front-man of Metal Clown, was an ex-plumber and punk who shared his litre of wine with Pierrot in a Paris suburb. Another was Fred, a trainee social worker who saw a clip of Archaos on TV, wrote to Pierrot and was booked as a comic character. Or Hugh, a travelling batik salesman who parked his Volkswagen Combi on the Archaos site one night in Barcelona and stayed for the next three years. Australian Chris was on the run from a Portuguese love triangle. Both became tent riggers and then metal clowns.

In 1988 Archaos gave 28 shows in the UK. That number increased to 179 in 1990 generating over £1 million at the box office. In ’88 and ’89, Adrian was responsible only for the UK tours. In 1990 he took on the promotion of Archaos in all territories outside France. Michel Almon and Isabelle Joly strengthened the French administration while the UK team expanded in all directions to cope with the increased workload. Robin led on production; Nick looked after the site; Jane and Emma ran the box-office; Sal did the books; Ian and JJ were front of house; Tony and Miles stocked the bar; Harriet, Kate and Carol coped with everything that was thrown at them. Antonia and Coralie were recruited to help out in the double-decker bus that served as a mobile office but after a couple of months, together with Suzie, an ex-publicist from Adelaide Festival, they ended up in the show dressed as leather-clad Amazonians on a flaming chariot.

Cathedral Tent

Metal Clown was the sixth production and the first to have a formal, if unfathomable, dramatic narrative which was conceived by Pierrot in purely visual terms with help from Reynald and Olivier. It was performed in a 2,500-seat, custom-built construction by engineer Serge Calvier, who had also designed Le Capote. Metal Clown rehearsed in Marseille in 1991, opened in Copenhagen and then toured to Stockholm, Helsinki, Manchester and then on to Tallaght for the Dublin Theatre Festival. In London there were two weeks adjacent to Wembley Stadium followed by four weeks in the grounds of Battersea Power Station. The tour finished with a three-month run in Paris at Le Quai de la Gare.

The 120-strong cast and crew included over fifteen different nationalities and wherever the show played, a 150-metre tarmac road had to be laid. The tarmac itself cost £20,000. Digging it up and disposing of it cost a further £5,000. The shows were getting bigger and bigger and more and more expensive to produce.

The performance started with the Cathedral Tent’s doors flung open and the invasion of European pioneers in a frenetic convoy of vehicles which rattled in through one entrance to be shut out into the night by the other. There were jeeps, a JCB, rally cars, honking trucks interspersed with incongruous characters and a painted juggernaut with a sound system and South London rock band (The Thunderdogs) on the roof. A group of fifteen locally-recruited ‘metal clowns’ led by Boris and Chris played the Conquistadors; and a dozen Brazilian capoeira dancers (Bahia Axe Bahia) played the natives. The circus acts were given as gifts by the Metal Clown-conquistadors to the Brazilians. The action was presided over by Chris and Hugh leading a cohort of White Gods.

A group of aerialists flew through the air on a flying trapeze unit that unfolded from the back of an articulated truck. Ana and Raquel, playing exotic jungle birds on a perch, executed breath-taking manoeuvres high up in the tent. Marie and Ingela did a death-defying swinging aerial act. The Moroccan acrobatic Family Benslama entertained the natives with skilful displays of balance and agility, and Gerard juggled glass testicles torn from Hector’s stilt-walking dictator.

Incongruously, Jean-Pierre stripped off to his Y-fronts and took a shower; Rockin’ Robin was sadistic groom to dwarf Antoinette’s heroine bride; Sankey as the Black Widow walked on stilts topless and blind-folded leading Jean-Claude in his wheelchair; and then Pierre-Marie did some amazing motorbike stunts and a sensational wheelie in his clapped-out car from one end of the road-stage to the other. As a finale, Colin (who claimed he had been a fixer for the Rolling Stones) rigged himself up with fireworks and lit the fuse. The metal clowns can-canned down the road in the fiesta that followed the violent overthrow of the Brazilian pimp-dictator.  The show concluded with the birth of the human machine, a new civilisation that was both celebratory and strangely chilling at the same time.

Sankey remembers this time well: “Very many of us can say that Pierrot changed not only the face of modern circus, but our lives. I certainly can. But his talent lay not so much in his personal ability to create, but his ability to find and cultivate creative imaginations. The teamwork of Archaos was staggering. The imaginations and technical abilities knew no bounds. Pierrot was a persuader, a man who knew how to talk to us and finally have his way. He was a seeker of pearls; we were the oysters.”

From summer ’90, the talk was all of creating a show to challenge Cirque du Soleil and conquer the American market. The following year, after protracted negotiations with Frank Zappa’s ex-manager Bennett Glotzer, substantial contracts with A-list rock and roll promoters were signed for appearances in Toronto and New York. The economics of the tour demanded high ticket prices in a hired-in 2,500-seat big top and runs of 32 shows in each city. The promoters had lapped up the UK tabloid headlines and were fully expecting an anarchic, Mad Max sex-circus that was going to stretch all known boundaries of public decency and hook in coach-loads of thrill-seekers with money to burn.

Pascualito had upgraded from leather jock-strap to leather jacket and now ran the show. Ian had been promoted too, going from Front of House Manager to Master of Ceremonies. The new show, called BX-’91, opened in Alès and went on to play in Germany, Israel (a sell-out success for the Jerusalem Festival), Brighton, Bristol, Birmingham and Edinburgh before setting off for Toronto. The European shows took place in traditional circus layout in the dusty old Fanny tent. Les Marcel Burins, veterans from The Last Show on Earth, provided live music, and there was a whole batch of new faces amongst the familiar. Rita, Julian and Niki mixed up a vibrant flying trapeze routine; Serge and Mark roughed up pirouettes on their BMXs and bounced off vehicles; Marjorie was schoolgirl jailbait on her stilts; Amelie looked raunchy in leather; Dominique was plain bananas; and the astonishing acrobat Victor tied his remarkably flexible partner Natalia into knots and threw her in the air. Unfortunately, when the company shipped out to Toronto, it was without the aerialists Marie and Ingela who were struck down with injuries.

Final Act

Archaos has always been most successful when introduced to a new market in the context of a festival and when promoted as much for their lifestyle as for their performance. Certainly they suffered when the PR campaign was limited to the aesthetics of the performance. In Europe, the motley crew lived in a ramshackle collection of customised caravans, tents, trucks and buses. For the Toronto pitch, an identical fleet of mobile homes was laid on as accommodation. This sanitised look had an adverse effect on the group’s mindset. Archaos was used to designing new tented environments to suit their shows but in Toronto they were showcased in a traditional star-spangled big top in an out of town baseball stadium. Great parking facilities but zero atmosphere. The troupe who had reinvented circus as an anarchic art form for the industrial world had lost its edge in this sub-suburban bayou. Here Pierrot struggled to find the right performance ingredients to create the explosive cocktail he was looking for. “We’ll get buffalo,” he promised, “a whole herd, and drive them through the tent.” Archaos’s radical chutzpah chimed with the times in recession-hit Britain. The vibe just didn’t translate to Toronto.

Pierrot’s concern that British audiences might not get them back in 1988 proved unfounded; however, there was no such happy ending in North America. The buzz was muted, the press lukewarm and the run of shows failed to ignite, playing to appreciative but half-full houses. The rock and roll promoters cut their losses by cancelling the New York leg before the run had even finished in Canada. Archaos never made Manhattan. The fondest memory of those days is when The Pogues gave an impromptu performance on the Archaos set; the party afterwards reached legendary proportions.


In October 1990, just as Archaos were setting up in Tallaght for the Dublin Theatre Festival, Ireland was hit by gales that were so ferocious the cross-channel ferry was suspended. Overnight, the gusting 90mph winds raged violently, completely destroying the reinforced pvc skin of the Cathedral Tent. In the morning, all that was left was the skeleton structure. Archaos put a factory in the south of France on three shifts a day to create a new skin in time for the London run and hired, at considerable expense, a replacement tent to honour the Dublin dates. In typical Archaos style, there was no insurance in place to cover this.

The opening night was given, but then the gales returned forcing further performance cancellations. The festival’s non-computerised box office was in a state of chaos with a frustrated public unsure whether their tickets were valid or whether the shows were on or off. In this mayhem, the deadlines to pay Archaos its contracted fees were missed. As if matters couldn’t get worse, Antoinette the dwarf was taken to hospital where unexpectedly she died. Because bruising was discovered, the local police were suspicious and cross-examined the grief-stricken cast and crew. It was soon established that Antoinette had died of natural causes but morale within Archaos was crushed. Local legend had it that the Tallaght burial mound on which they were playing was cursed.

When it became apparent that the festival was deliberately withholding contracted payments, Archaos’s relationship with its Irish host deteriorated rapidly. The final performance had been bought out by the festival sponsor with complimentary tickets given to their employees. Once everyone was seated the company trouped into the tent and stood shoulder to shoulder. “We haven’t been paid,” ringmaster JJ announced, “and the only weapon artists have in these circumstances is to strike, so we will not perform for you tonight.” And with that, the company walked out leaving the road-stage empty. There was stunned silence. The audience, both perplexed and annoyed, left the site. The festival retaliated the same night: site electricity was cut, water stopped, security removed, hired forklift trucks and crew were turned away. The site had to be dismantled by hand and the circus left Dublin in a flurry of writs.

The troupe returned to France in debt, made worse when the second company’s New York dates were scratched; made catastrophic when the three-month run in Paris failed to ignite. The 1992 tour of Italy, Spain and Portugal was cancelled and both circus troupes were disbanded. Circus International Ltd in London as well as BATR Productions in Paris went into liquidation. While Pierrot and Guy’s assets were not quite frozen, since the circus school in Alès and their TV production company were managed under different company names, back in the UK Adrian lost everything.

Following the dissolution of the company, the circus artists and musicians moved on to thrill and excite in other companies, while the bouinax drifted into European street theatre and performance art groups. What happened to the UK runaways? Rockin’ Robin has been seen busking on Manchester’s Grafton Street; Sankey became a mainstay of the pyrotechnic company Groupe F; Lee hitched up with an Australian heiress; Gemma became a TV location fixer; Antonia achieved acclaim as a horror-film actress; Mischa is now a cultural broker in the south-west of England; Jane and Pete are practising visual artists; Robin produces events; Mark is one of the UK’s top PR gurus; Adrian created The Mayor’s Thames Festival and is still its director.

The intensity of being part of the Archaos experience and the raunchy rock and roll lifestyle was rocket fuel for many a relationship and a whole generation of Archaos babies were born. It is possible that some young men and women will be reading this text and realising, perhaps for the first time, what infamous characters their parents really were.


Following Metal Clown’s disastrous run in Paris, Pierrot and Guy, together with their wives, the Brazilian sisters Ana and Raquel, retreated to a farm where all the tents, trucks and technical gear was stored and being liquidated. An Archaos-lite show was thrown together called DJ’92 (followed by DJ‘93 and DJ‘94) and played wherever an invitation was offered. Yet there were dreams of a comeback with bigger shows yet than Metal Clown.

A treatment was prepared for Mechanique et Transpiration, a show of gladiatorial scale for an audience of 10,000 people. It never happened. Pierrot was also working up ideas for U2’s Zooropa Tour, in development on a massive production called Gulag with The Moscow Studio Circus, and was creating an ambitious one-off production at the Cirque d’Hiver with performers from five countries.

At the same time, Guy was raising finance for a new show under the Archaos banner, a stadium show called Game Over, co-written by Pierrot and Guy. Since Pierrot was otherwise engaged, Game Over became Guy’s show, and when it eventually came to production in 1995, Pierrot was not invited to direct it. The media picked up on Pierrot’s absence, commenting that the show was slick and polished but somehow lacked soul.

Allegedly, there was a verbal agreement between Pierrot and Guy that after Game Over had run its course, the name Archaos would only ever be used if both of them decided to work together again. Pierrot left France to live in Brazil where he set up a new venture called Circo da Madrugada; he then went on to Guinea in West Africa where he created a second company, Circus Baobab.

In addition to the shows he created for Circo da Madrugada and Circus Baobab, in the last ten years Pierrot directed, created and helped shape a huge body of work including Gerry Cottle’s Circus of Horrors, the opening of the Eurostar St Pancras Terminal in London with Bassline Circus, Zinzin for Tréteaux du Coeur Volant, Orfeu for Tous Fou to Fly, Les Bals de la Rose in Monaco, a show for Moscow’s Cirque Nikouline, Flying Dragon Circus in Beijing and B for Beethoven for arch-traditionalists Cirque Joseph Bouglione. But the original Archaos team of artistic director, producer, promoter and publicist was never to work together again.

Pierrot’s passion for creating poetic spectacle using the symbolism of circus arts continued to develop. His last show was Place des Anges, which continues to tour under the careful guidance of his wife Ana. The show takes place in the open air on a metal structure reminiscent of the original Chapiteau des Cordes. The show tells the tale of a renegade group of angels granted 24 hours’ parole from heaven. Swinging high above the audience’s heads, the angels are drawn down by earthly temptations, wings moulting, engulfing the public in tonnes of white feathers.

Many bouinax and circus artists have died since Pierrot’s Archaos dissolved. Miraculously, Jason survived a 38-day coma, but there was the death in Dublin, an overdose in prison, a suicide, a fatal car crash, a coitus-induced heart attack as well as drug-, alcohol-, HIV- and cancer-related deaths. One of the most recent was Pierrot himself in March this year aged 56. Pierrot had an enormous appetite for life and never submitted to the cancer that raged within him. “The alien has been torn from me and the clown lives on!” he cried gleefully just before the end. Friends say Pierrot’s final act was to give the peace and love sign with one hand, and to offer the third finger – to life, death or whatever – with the other.

« Previous Next »
Contact  |  Terms of Use  |  Archaos - Cirque de Caractere