Marie-Pierre Bénac

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Acrobat, Aerialist

By Dominique Jando

Marie-Pierre Bénac and Alexis Gruss
Marie-Pierre Bénac was not born into the circus. Yet during a circus career that spanned twelve years and two continents, she proved herself a very gifted and extremely versatile performer.

Born in Toulouse, France, on August 3, 1956, she began training in gymnastics at age twelve, studying at the Lycée of Font-Romeu in the French Pyrenées Mountains, where she had been sent to treat her asthma. As luck had it Font-Romeu was home to a training facility for the French national gymnastics team: she was in the right surroundings.

Le Cirque à l'Ancienne

Upon graduating from high schoolA display of equestrian dressage by a rider mounting a horse and leading it into classic moves and steps. (From the French: Haute école), Marie-Pierre went on to study design at Paris University, but she found that she missed the physical activity she had enjoyed in Font-Romeu. In 1976, just to "keep in shape," she decided to apply to the Conservatoire National des Arts du Cirque (also known as École au Carré), directed by Alexis Gruss. Founded in 1974, the Conservatoire was the first professional circus school in Western Europe.

Alexis Gruss was sufficiently impressed with Marie-Pierre's gymnastics background that he brought her into the resident company of his Cirque à l'ancienne. A repertory circus that formed part of the Paris Cultural Center, Alexis Gruss's Cirque à l'ancienne (Old-Time Circus) has been credited with spearheading the European circus renaissance of the 1970s and the "new circus" movement. It would become, in the 1980s, the French National Circus.

Marie-Pierre performed fifteen different acts over the course of her seven years with the Cirque à l'ancienne, including: Roman Rings; flying trapezeAerial act in which an acrobat is propelled from a trapeze to a catcher, or to another trapeze. (See also: Short-distance Flying Trapeze); Russian Barre; floor acrobatics; several equestrian acts, including a unique acrobatic adagioAcrobatic act, generally involving a man and a woman, presented in a slow or romantic mood. on horseback with Alexis Gruss; and even a teeterboardA seesaw made of wood, or fiberglass poles tied together, which is used to propel acrobats in the air. act with elephants.

The Big Apple Circus

In 1984, Marie-Pierre moved to the United States, where she joined the Big Apple Circus's resident company of performers. There she first recreated her Russian Barre act with David Dimitri and Sacha Pavlata, and for six years, she displayed her remarkable versatility, performing—among other acts—a superb tight-wire duet and a pas-de-deux on the back of two elephants, both with David Dimitri. She was also featured in a trapeze act, and she performed for the last time her Russian Barre act in 1992-93 with Glen Nicolodi and Julian Stachowski.

Marie-Pierre and David Dimitri performed their tight-wire act with Circus Knie in Switzerland in 1988, where, in 1989, they also performed a Russian Barre act with Franco Knie. Marie-Pierre returned to the Big Apple Circus in 1991, again becoming a member of its resident company. She remained there until 1993, when she retired from the circus, marrying musician Dino Govoni. After working for a time as a physiotherapist, she went back to college, earning an Associate degree in Art and Humanities, and Masters degrees in French and in Adolescent Education. She and Dino separated in 2008. They have a son, Michael.

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