Circus Ronaldo however is a small family concern, very much in keeping with the romantic circus tradition. They have performed generation upon generation, and the arts have been passed on from generation to generation. Danny and David are the sixth generation, and it looks as if the seventh, even though still very small, will follow suit.

It all started when Adolf Peter Vandenberghe, who came from Ghent and was born in 1827, ran away from home at the age of fifteen and joined the circus. Starting off as a groom, tradition has it that he soon worked his way up and became one of the best acrobats of his age. The family has a print of an advertisement for the imperial circus of St. Petersburg in its possession, showing Adolf Peter doing a pas-de-deux together with someone who is assumed to be Camille Lerou, a well-known horsewoman. In Alsace-Lorraine Adolf Peter met the daughter of some actors who were travelling around in caravans.

Johnny Ronaldo: "And it was from this meeting that quite spontaneously and unconsciously, the mixture of circus and theatre developed.
From the start of the century to the thirties, the third generation, Johnny’s grandfather, staged mainly cloak and dagger pieces under the name of Volkstheater Vandenberghe. All the elements of circus had virtually disappeared. There were occasional acrobatics, as for example when a market scene was staged.

The grandfather gave up his own theatre in 1933 and after the war became involved with amateur companies. This was followed by a deviation from the male side of the family. Even though the sons went into theatre or the circus as clowns or acrobats on a bicycle, it was his daughter’s children, Jan and Herman Van den Broeck, who picked up the thread once more. The latter joined the circus as a musician, where he also learned juggling. From the fifties the brothers performed musical variety theatre under the name of Ronaldo. They simply liked the sound of the name. Jan became Johnny Ronaldo, and twenty years later they used this artist’s name once more for their circus.

The two brothers started the circus in 1971, but three years later Herman decided to give it up along with his nomadic existence, and take on a steady job with the Flanders Ballet as a piano accompanist. Jan’s, or should we say Johnny’s, sons (David & Danny) were now the sixth generation, and it was through them that Circus Ronaldo moved towards theatre, long before the flowering of French circus theatres during the early nineties.

For 25 years they battled for recognition. It was thanks to the Flemish cultural ambassador award that they were able to focus attention on themselves. Also in the ‘official’ theatre world. This even resulted in a co-production with PCT Dommelhof and the Toneelhuis, and with an indoor version of Fili in the Bourla theatre.

But now they are back on the road with their new tent. They have remained themselves, and do not present audiences with a reconstruction of early circus or early comedy. Nor do their performances contain high-tech and acrobatic highlights; there is no punk, orchestrated chaos or anything freaky.

Circus Ronaldo is not an imitation of a circus or a symptom of the age. It is not an idea that was thought out on paper and is now being put into practice. Circus Ronaldo is Circus Ronaldo, pure and simple.

Tuur Devens

Circus Ronaldo is supported by the Flemish Community and the Province of Antwerp.