Icarists, Foot Jugglers
By Dominique Jando
The Castors may well be one of the longest running acrobatic acts in show business, with a uninterrupted career that spans more than a half-century. Even though their act has changed in appearance and details through five decades, it has remained the same in form—a mixture of foot juggling and risley act, which, over the years, has been increasingly interspersed with touches of comedy.
Toly (Anatole, b. 1943), Charly (Charles, b. 1945), and Eddy (Edouard, b. 1949) were all born in Paris, France: In spite of incessant family travels, their mother, being of Russian origin, believed that having all her children born in the French capital would ease the intricate French administrative procedures. Their father, Louis Dedessus le Moutier (1910-2004), was fourth generation of an old French circus family; Nona, their mother, was born Bedini, a celebrated Russian circus family of Italian origins.
The Dedessus le Moutier Family
The family’s surname, Dedessus le Moutier, is rather ancient and may have old aristocratic roots. One might regret, however, that no romantic tale exists in the family lore of a noble ancestor who would have fallen in love with a beautiful ropedancer or equestrienneA female equestrian, or horse trainer, horse presenter, or acrobat on horseback., and left a respectable and sedentary lifestyle to follow her on the road: For once, at least, it could have had a ring of truth.Rodolphe Gruss [1938-1964], then to the clown Toto Chabri).
The name seems to have been originally spelled Dedessus le Moustier, and the family became known in the circus world simply as Moustier. But the spelling of itinerant performers’ names often changed with the transcripts of local permits, the various circumstances of life on the road, and, in our case, even the complaints of distant, upright relatives: At some point, the Cirque Moustier became Cirque de Dessus le Moustier, a truly aristocratic spelling, which thumbed its nose at some sedentary Dedessus le Moustiers who had objected to seeing their name disgraced on the façade of a circus!
Louis Dedessus le Moutier and his brother, Emilien, worked in every possible capacity in their family’s circus, before creating their own knockabout acrobatic act, Les Frères Moustier. When performing at the French Cirque Bureau, Louis met Nona Bedini, who worked in the same program with her family’s famous risley act. The rest, as they say, is history.
Louis and his wife created a hand-to-handAn acrobatic act in which one or more acrobats do hand-balancing in the hands of an under-stander. balancing act, and then, with Emilien and several partners, an acrobatic troupe, Les Arabes Blancs, later known as Les Dallys, with which they worked in their own Cirque Moustier. Toly was the first of the brothers to join the troupe in 1951, at age eight (his sister, Nora, had preceded him). Charly made his debut in 1956, and Eddy in 1958.
Les Castorsicarism(French: Jeux Icariens) Act performed by Icarists, in which one acrobat, lying on his back, juggles another acrobat with his feet. (Also: Risley Act)—specialties that were indeed familiar to Nona. Toly also became a proficient juggler, and eventually created his own juggling act in the Kremo style, under the stage name of Toly M.
Originally, the family presented their act in Native American costumes. The name "Castors" came from The Red Ryder comics of which Toly was fond; the Red Ryder had a young Native American sidekick named Little Beaver (Petit Castor in French), and the young Moustiers thus became known as Les Castors—a name they will keep into adulthood. Nora left the act when she married Rodolphe Gruss in 1962, and Nona left at the same time. By then, Toly was twenty, and Charly and Eddy were in their late teens; the act finally became theirs, their father just assisting them.
Throughout their long career, Les Castors have been featured in practically every major European circus, as well as in every major variety theater. They even performed at the "Old Circus" on Tsvetnoy Boulevard in Moscow and at the "Circus on the Fontanka" in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg) with Le Cirque Français, the first western circus troupe to visit the USSR in 1960, and participated in a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
The Castors have also worked with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in Stuttgart, Germany, during its short-lived European engagement in 1963; at Sun City Casino, Bophuthatswana, in South Africa; and in North Korea, Japan, Israel, and the Arab Emirates, among other countries. After they had played the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1975, their father left the act, and went to teach acrobatics at Annie Fratellini’s Ecole Nationale du Cirque in Paris. The Castors have since continued their long career on their own.
In the past two decades (as of 2014), Toly, Charly and Eddy Castors, as they are known in the business, have worked extensively in varieté(German, from the French: ''variété'') A German variety show whose acts are mostly circus acts, performed in a cabaret atmosphere. Very popular in Germany before WWII, Varieté shows have experienced a renaissance since the 1980s. shows in Germany and the U.S., most notably with Teatro ZinZanni in San Francisco and Seattle, and Palazzo Varieté in Vienna, Bale, Mannheim, and Stuttgart—for both of which organizations they have also written and directed shows. Additionally, they have run a regular variety show, Les rendez-vous du Musicool, at the Cirque d’Hiver’s "Théâtre de la Ménagerie" in Paris.
They still work seasonally today, notably in German varieté(German, from the French: ''variété'') A German variety show whose acts are mostly circus acts, performed in a cabaret atmosphere. Very popular in Germany before WWII, Varieté shows have experienced a renaissance since the 1980s., although Charly lives in Seattle, in the United States, (where he had a French cooking show on local television!) and his brothers live in France, where they also pursue their own personal interests—Eddie directing shows, Toly writing and drawing cartoons, among other activities.
- Video: Les Castors, icarists, at Paris's Cirque d'Hiver (1971)
- Video: Les Castors, icarists, at Circus Knie (1973)
- Toly Castors, L'Éloge du cirque — Les loges du cirque (Padova, Papergraf, 2011) — ISBN 978-2-7466-2837-3