French fancies: Cirque Bouglione

Cirque d’hiver Bouglione is a French circus company based at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris’ 11th arrondissement, which the Bouglione family acquired in 1934. 

A true family business, it was managed successively by the two brothers Sampion and Émilien Bouglione (sons of Joseph and Rosa Bouglione) then by their children. Sandrine Bouglione and Odette Bouglione have been  joint-Presidents since 2021, Francesco Bouglione is the Administrative Director, Louis-Sampion Bouglione is the Communications Manager, Joseph Bouglione is the Artistic Director and Thierry Bouillon is the Commercial Director.

How it all began

The Bouglione family are one of the foremost circus families in France, whose story began in 19th century with love at first sight between a young gypsy lion tamer and the son of an Italian draper. A few years later, Scipion Boglioni ‘Frenchified’ his name to Bouglione and they moved to France, where they showcased fairground menageries. Indeed Rosa and Joseph Bouglione were married in the lion cage with the priest standing prudently outside.

In 1926, Alexandre discovered a collection of Buffalo Bill posters dating from the Wild Wild West Show of 1904. He persuaded his father to create a show that was strongly inspired by that American epic. Called Captain Buffalo Bill’s Stage Show, it was a great success and made them famous!

The Cirque d’Hiver in Paris was constructed and inaugurated under the second Empire in 1852 and was originally called the Cirque Napoléon. The Bouglione family had been running and performing at the Cirque d’Hiver since 1907, finally becoming its owners in 1934. Joseph Bouglione (known as Sampion Bouglione Senior) and his sons — the four Bouglione brothers, Alfred (known as Alexander I), Joseph I, Firmin I, and Nicolas (known as Sampion II) paid for it with gold coins.

Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione - Paris tourist office

From 1931 to 1958, the family periodically presented pantomimes at Cirque d’Hiver,   a form of entertainment overlooked in France since WWI. The Pearl of Bengal, The Princess Saltimbanque and The Adventures of the Princess of Sheba are three famous spectacles shows for which the Bougliones are well-known.

The circus also brought together the greatest clowns of the time: the Fratellini brothers in Les Fratellini en Afrique in 1933 and Les Diamants du Radjah in 1934, Antonet and Beby in La Reine de la Sierra in 1935, and especially the debut of Achille Zavatta who later formed a duet with Despard in La Perle du Bengale and La Princesse Saltimbanque in 1936, in Le Courrier du Texas in 1937 and in The Adventures of the Princess of Sheba in 1938; as well as with his brother Michel in The Idol of Shanghai in 1939.

During WWII, the couple’s Italian sounding surname allowed them to continue to operate under the Nazis. From the 1950s to the 1990s shows were marked by a wide variety of international performers and world tours. On one trip to South America the elephants were almost thrown off the ship to keep it from sinking in a freak storm on the Atlantic. Later a panther escaped from his cage in the cargo hold of a flight.

la nouvelle affiche du prochain spectacle du cirque D HIVER BOUGLIONE qui présentera " RIRE " !!!! - Blog de VENDEE-CIRQUE

In 1999, the latest Bouglione generation took up the torch and breathed new life into the Cirque d’Hiver, reviving its successes. The Cirque d’Hiver is once again regularly hosting a circus season, producing a traditional circus show every winter for several months: these are Salto (revival of the show from 1852, in 1999), Piste (2000), Trapèze (2001) , Le Cirque (which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the monument in 2002), Voltige (2003), Bravo (2004), Audace (2005), Artistes (2006), Vertige (2007), Étoiles (2008), Festif ( 2009), Prestige (2010), Virtuoso (2011), Eclat (2012), Phenomenal (2013), Giant (2014), Laugh (2015), Surprise (2016), Exploit (2017), Extra (2018), Challenge ( 2019), Crazy (2020), Crazy (2021) and Fantasy (2022).

Fantaisie | Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione

Regina and Joseph Bouglione, who themselves grew up in circus caravans but now live in Parisian apartments, are specialists in horses which are part of every show. Rosa’s son Joseph-Eugene is quoted as saying:

The circus without animals is a meal without wine.

There’s now a museum in the Cirque d’Hiver which chronicles the building’s history and that of the circus.

All images courtesy of Cirque d’Hiver

8 Comments on “French fancies: Cirque Bouglione

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