Moira Orfei

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Circus Owner, Performer, Actress

By Raffaele De Ritis

Circo Moira Orfei Poster (2004-2005)
Moira Orfei (born Miranda Orfei in 1931) is an Italian pop-culture icon. A member of the most famous circus family in the region, she can compete in fame with any Italian music or movie legend. She is 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 headshot and her first name. Much of her reputation is due to her long movie career, which coincided with the golden age of Italian cinema. But it is also due to the quality of her circus.

The daughter of Riccardo Orfei, Moira was trained in all the basic circus disciplines as a child. In 1960—without ever leaving the circus—she began her 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, Atlas, and Samson series.

In 1961, she married the acrobat Walter Nones. 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. Their circus 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 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 trainer.

In 1976, the circus split into two separate units: the traditional Circo Moira Orfei, and the circus-on-ice show. In the early 1980s, Moira and Walter began to produce other touring shows. They got exclusive rights to the Italian tours of the Moscow Circus and for the American ice show Holiday On Ice. Meanwhile, regular circus tours made Moira extremely popular in other Mediterranean countries. (In 1977, Moira's circus was in Iran when the Islamic revolution broke out, but they managed to return safely—if not without some difficulty—to Italy.)

In 1987, Walter and Moira produced the Moira+Mosca circus, which combined some of the best Soviet acts with Moira's Italian performers and animal acts. That same year, they produced a superb seventeen-tiger act with the help of the great trainer Jean Michon. The act was presented by Walter's brother, Massimiliano Nones, and became the first cage-act to win a Gold Clown at the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. Moira's sons, Stefano and Lara, also won a Silver Clown in Monte Carlo in 1999 with two acts: a double 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), and a display of exotic animals that included a "liberty"Liberty act", "Horses at liberty": Unmounted horses presented from the center of the ring by an equestrian directing his charges with his voice, body movements, and signals from a ''chambrière'' (French), or long whip." presentation of a giraffe, a rhinoceros, and antelopes with zebras.

Moira retired from performing in the late 1990s, but she did not cease from supervising every detail of her organization. Neither did she entirely disappear from the ring: she still appears in the ring to greet her audience at the opening of each performance, and her entrance always prompts standing ovations and flower-throwing.

In recent years, Moira has appeared in a few screen comedies and has become a much sought-after guest on TV talk shows. With its large menagerie and classy productions, its fine orchestra and true corps-de-ballet—together with Moira's attention to detail and her booking some of the world's finest acts—Moira Orfei's circus is among the most respected in Europe.

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