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Circopedia was originally inspired and funded by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation.

In The Spotlight


Moira Orfei (born Miranda Orfei, 1931-2015) was an Italian pop-culture icon. A member of Italy's most famous circus family, she could compete in fame with any Italian music or movie legend. She was undoubtedly the only circus owner in the world who could get away (for forty years, no less!) with advertising her circus using posters that prominently displayed only her head shot and her first name. Much of her reputation was due to her long movie career, which coincided with the golden age of Italian cinema. But it was also due to the quality of her circus.

The daughter of Riccardo Orfei and Violetta Arata, she was born in the family's living trailer on December 21, 1931 in Codriopo, Italy. As a child, Moira was trained in all the basic circus disciplines. In 1960—without ever leaving the circus—she began a movie career. Ultimately, she appeared in nearly forty films, including popular Italian comedies and a host of internationally successful Italian productions based on mythological themes, such as the Hercules, Ursus, and Samson series.

In 1961, she married the acrobat Walter Nones (1934-2016), the son of Giuseppe Nones and Adele Medini. A year later, they formed a company with the Austrian Swoboda sisters (of the Medrano-Swoboda circus) and began a long career as circus owners and directors. A year after that, the Orfeis and the Swobodas parted ways. Moira and Walter went on to create their own Circo Moira Orfei, which quickly drew attention, both for the elegance of its productions and its infrastructures and, above all, for the high quality of its acts.

Moira and Walter launched the monumental Circo sul Ghiaccio ("Circus on Ice") in 1969. It was easily the most sophisticated circus-on-ice show ever undertaken; it had both a circus ring and a skating rink, and the show included elaborate set changes, a huge variety of costumes, and an international cast of circus and variety megastars. During this period, Moira's elephant presentations made her a legend, while Walter became an excellent lion and tiger trainer.... (more...)

New Essays and Biographies

New Videos

  • International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo, 40th Anniversary Gala (excerpts) (2016)
  • Hunish Parmar, strap actAerial act performed hanging from a pair of fabric or leather straps. (See Aerial Straps.) (2024)
  • The Flying Tabares, 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) (2023)
  • Two On The Rope, corde lisse(French) A vertical rope used in aerial acts, either for the act itself, or to climb up to an apparatus. Called Spanish Web when covered with fabric. (2024)
  • The Flying Caballeros, 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) (2023)

New Oral Histories

Circopedia Books

A Message from the Founder

CIRCOPEDIA is a constantly evolving and expanding archive of the international circus. New videos, biographies, essays, and documents are added to the site on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis. Keep visiting us: even if today you don't find what you're looking for, it may well be here tomorrow! And if you are a serious circus scholar and spot a factual or historical inaccuracy, do not hesitate to contact us: we will definitely consider your remarks and suggestions.

Dominique Jando
Founder and Curator