Photography

A Day in the Life of Modern Circus Kids

Photographer Sophie Rodriguez spent time with the Ritz family circus as they struggle to keep their traditions alive.

by Sophie Rodriguez
17 July 2019, 8:15am

After an hour-and-a-half show, Dany thanks the audience for coming. All photos: Sophie Rodriguez

This article originally appeared on VICE France.

At the Ritz family circus, the kids – whose names sound distinct American – run the show. Cousins Rocky, Chayan, Tennessee, Kellen and Dany are between three and 14 years old. They were born in the circus and have no plans of quitting the nomadic lifestyle they grew up in.

The spectacle travels up and down the suburbs of Paris in the winter and to the south of France in the summer. This is no Cirque du Soleil, their grandfather, Armand, constantly reminds everyone. For him, the circus is first and foremost about "clowns and animals". In front of 30-odd people, sometimes less, almost every day, the Ritz kids perform balancing acts, horse dressage and clown performances.

But before putting up the tent, they need to find the right spot. And that's not always easy. The family complain that they spend more time trying to secure a place to house their circus than they do actually practising and performing the show. That's because municipalities are becoming more and more resistant to hosting these small circuses, with pressure coming from animal rights groups, who often protest at the shows.

1557157866656-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-2
The two eldest kids in the family – Rocky, 10 and Chayan, 14 – joke around after being tipped by an audience member.

For the kids, it's hard to understand why people would oppose their lifestyle, as it's all they've ever known. Still, eight-year-old Dany is starting to realise that circus life isn't always a party, and is already thinking about what he might do instead. At the moment, he's leaning towards either becoming a bullfighter or a builder.

If everything goes to plan, the kids will stay in the business, inheriting the secrets that have been passed down within their family for generations. Photographer Sophie Rodriguez spent a day with the Ritz family in the town of Savigny-sur-Orge, 30km south of Paris, to better understand some of these secrets and to discover what it's like to be a modern circus kid.

Scroll down to see more of Sophie Rodriguez's photos of the Ritz family circus, for which she recently won the Paris Match Prix Spécial.

1563189775280-circus-cove
The Ritz family circus.
1557157883426-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-3
Chayan and Rocky set up an enclosure for the camels.
1557157899780-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-4
The kids pose with their grandfather, Armand, 65.
1557157915619-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-5
Despite pressure from animal rights groups, the Ritz family can't imagine the circus without animals.
1557157930591-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-6
Tennessee, 3, Dany, 8, and Kellen, 5.
1557157951303-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-7
Chayan and Rocky practising their juggling.
1557157984801-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-9
At 14, Chayan is the oldest of the Ritz kids. He works across all sorts of stuff: he drives the truck, does DIY projects, takes care of the animals and performs in the show.
1557157996056-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-10
At 8, Dany (right) is already aware that the circus is in danger. If this doesn't work out, he wants to be bullfighter or a builder.
1557158011588-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-11
It's about to rain, so Chayan tries to usher Surprise, one of the four camels in the circus, inside a sheltered enclosure.
1557158027193-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-12
Rocky practising his set a few minutes before showtime.
1557158045718-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-13
Father and son doing a balancing act.
1557158087640-Sophie-Rodriguez-Cirque-15
The tent leaves a mark on the grass for a couple of weeks. Two days after the last show, the circus is yet to find the next place that wants to host them.