By Dominique Jando
Upon graduation 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), she went on to study design at Paris University, but she missed the physical activity she had had in Font-Romeu. In 1976, to “keep in shape,” she decided to apply for the Conservatoire National des Arts du Cirque, directed by Alexis Gruss—France’s first circus school and, created in 1974, the Western world’s very first professional circus school.
Marie-Pierre’s gymnastics background impressed Alexis Gruss enough to prompt him to take her into the company of his Cirque à l’ancienne. Alexis Gruss’s Cirque à l’ancienne (old-time circus) was a repertory circus part of the Paris Cultural Center’s activities; it has been credited for spearheading the European circus renaissance of the 1970s, and the “new circus” movement. It would become, in the 1980s, the French National Circus.
Trained subsequently within the Gruss family, Marie-Pierre has performed fifteen different acts during her seven years with the Cirque à l’ancienne, including Russian Barre; several equesrian 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; 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); Roman Rings; floor acrobatics; 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, to name but a few.
Marie-Pierre Bénac moved to the United States in 1984 and joined the Big Apple Circus’s resident company of performers. There she went on the recreate her Russian Bar act with David Dimitri and Sacha Pavlata, and for six years, she again showed her remarkable versatility, performing among other acts a superb tight-wire duet and a pas-de-deux on the back of two elephants with David Dimitri. She was also featured in a trapeze act, and she performed for the last time her Russian Barre act in 1992-1993 with Glen Nicolodi and Julian Stachowski.
In 1988, Marie-Pierre Bénac and David Dimitri performed their tight-wire act with Circus Knie in Switzerland, and in 1989, a Russian Barre act with David Dimitri and Franco Knie. She returned to the Big Apple Circus in 1991, and was again a member of its resident company until 1993. She then retired from the circus and married musician Dino Govoni. After working for a while as a physiotherapist, she went back to college, got an Associate degree in Art and Humanities, and Master degrees in Adolescent Education and French. She and Dino separated in 2008. They have a son, Michael.
- Video: David Dimitri & Marie-Pierre Bénac, Tight-Wire act in the Big Apple Circus production of Carnival and Mardi Gras (1986)
- Video: David Dimitri & Marie-Pierre Bénac, Pas-de-Deux on elephants with William Woodcock in the Big Apple Circus production of 1001 Arabian Nights (1987)
- Video: Marie-Pierre Bénac, Glen Nicolodi & Julian Stachowski, Russian Barre, in the Big Apple Circus production of Goin' Places (1992)