Ringmaster and clown about town, Beni Malone is known for his entertaining antics, but with his daughter Anahareo Dölle at his side, the duo takes fun to fabulous
Joining local artists will be renowned circus companies from Québec who, along with the Wonderbolt team at ‘the edge of the world,’ have plans for some outrageous and awe-inspiring new performances as well as multiple industry panels, fun parties and sold-out performances as they celebrate returning to the stage – and to the air!
When The Herald sat down with Artistic Director Beni Malone and his daughter Anahareo Dölle (Festival Artistic Director & Co-Producer), Nicole Pittman took to the hoop behind us and began performing. While spinning and turning upside down might be par for the course at Wonderbolt’s downtown location, The Space, it’s a bit of a delightful distraction.
Even after 40 years in the biz, Malone admits he’s still amazed by the talent he is privileged to witness in this province and beyond. “It will be Wonderbolt’s 30th anniversary next year, though I started in the business a decade before that, and Anahareo has been at my side since she was 10 years old – she was my acrobat in one of my shows,” he began.
A Love of performance
He added that his daughter “was hooked” right there and then. “She fell in love with performing and went away to go to circus school and she became really good, and she created a network of talented people around the world, and so we draw on that when creating events like our St. John’s International CircusFest.”
Dölle, a mom of three herself now, beams. Will there be a third generation of performers at Wonderbolt, we ask? Already working on it, they both answer with much laughter. “My two oldest girls do aerials and my little boy is a dancer so they’re definitely growing up surrounded by performing, so we’ll see what they end up doing,” she added proudly.
An artistic family
That Malone takes centre stage and loves it should come as little surprise considering his linage. Baby brother of famed CODCO member Greg Malone, he was immersed in performance from a young age. “I grew up around it and CODCO certainly opened everybody’s eyes up to a different form of comedy, and they gave us a different way of looking at ourselves. We didn’t just have to watch British comedy; we could actually do our own stuff. And we were really funny.”
Malone joined the touring theatre company alongside the CODCO crew as he grew older, and that was it, he shared. “We toured Newfoundland with the Newfoundland Travelling Theatre Company and on one of those tours we had a joke where I learned how to juggle and that took me to a type of theatre that was physical, and it was visual. I was hooked for life. That was it. I had the bug and I just kept going.”
Dölle knows the feeling. “If you love something, you’re going to want to do it and there’s nothing going to stop you, you know? I have learned from teaching and from my own kids that you can’t force anything. It has to come from within. I can’t force my kids to go to dance class, for instance. I’ve never been that type mom or that type of instructor, but I like to create an environment where people are motivated and want to do or learn something because they love it.”
The two obviously love what they do, and they’re passionate about sharing that with others, which is really what SJICF is about. “I always want people to love Circus as much as I do, but I think the only way I can do that is just by living it and providing it and loving it. Then, you attract the right people, people who want to learn, do, and see,” Dölle shared.
Inspiration from NL
Just as SJICF prepares to welcome the world to our shores, we ask the two why, after so much training and working away themselves; when they both could live, work, and be successful anywhere in the world, did they return to ‘The Rock.’ The answer is simple as far as Malone is concerned.
“This is where I draw a lot of my inspiration from and my sense of humour from. And I just love it here,” he said. Add to that the fact that the city of St. John’s and the province — in general — is just filled with so much talent and support. ‘Theatre people and musicians and singers; they don’t mind getting together and sharing their talent here. We help each other out even if only by inspiring each other. I have walked away in the past and I’ve had opportunities to walk away since, but I always come back here. This is home.”
Dölle, though IFLY Aerial Arts Performance Troupe with Wonderbolt, shared that passing on the passion to others is part of what keeps her fire for home ignited.
“We did a fully digital St. John’s International CircusFest last year, and this year we’re doing a fully live festival with artists from all across Canada so getting new ideas and performers and combining that with what we have here to offer really inspires me.”
Inspire and motivate
With students from the ages of five to 72, Dölle knows the second generation devotion she shows is being rewarded.
“I have a 72-year-old woman who does aerial trapeze and she’s fabulous. It doesn’t matter the age; they all inspire and motivate each other, and they all inspire and motivate me.”
Malone, a proud graduate of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Clown College, to name just one of his many accomplishments, has been creating and producing original circus-inspired theatre since 1982.
Dölle, a graduate of the National Circus School of Montreal where she specialized in aerial hoop and silk, shared that to her, at least at first, dad was just dad. “I just kind of grew up thinking it was normal, not realizing that not everyone’s dad did what he did. But, I remember in maybe grade one I came home crying because he had done a show in school that day and I remember saying to mom, ‘everyone was laughing at him today’ as if it was a bad thing (they both laugh) and I was like, ‘why are they laughing at him?’”
They both have much to be proud of since those early days. For one thing, through collaboration and creativity, they’ve survived a pandemic.
“I said, ‘we’re going to come back gangbusters’ and we have. This is going to be one of the biggest live events in St. John’s up to this point since the pandemic stage, and probably the biggest live event in Canada for Circus. We have over one hundred visiting artists coming… It’s become a really big drawing point, like a magnet and St. John’s is the centre of that,” Dölle stated.
“It’s a coming-out party for live performance in St. John’s and we’re really proud of that” Malone added.
From acts to makeup to lighting and musical scores: SJICF is a big production and the city and the province are stars of the show. “It kind of goes back to what we said earlier, how St. John’s has a synergy of artists that work together and work in different disciplines. We’re respecting that and we’re trying to foster that by providing stuff that’s not just for circus people, but for performers in general,” Malone added.
‘I love it all’
As we pause to watch Pittman perform, we ask Malone if he prefers smaller shows, like birthday parties, over the larger spectacles. His answer shouldn’t surprise. “I love it all,” he said sincerely.
We ask what we should call him. Ringmaster? Clown? Does either hat fit best? He thought for a moment. “ I am a ringmaster, medicine man, clown. Whatever it takes, really. But it’s not just me. Everyone involved is cleaning gear or helping me set up something. That’s what I love about it. Everyone seems to love hard work because they understand what it can achieve. It’s magic.”
A pivotal moment
One last question for the seasoned performer. In his 40 years in the business what’s his proudest moment. Without pausing, Malone hugs his daughter. “When she came back home and started to work with us. It was a pivotal moment because, as a parent – as a Newfoundland parent – having a child come back home is everything. You think they’re gone. She spent seven years or so in Berlin. I didn’t know for sure if she’d be coming back.”
He never lost hope though, he shared, offering that perhaps that gift of parental optimism is what’s kept him going a lifetime in the circus too. “I tried to create an environment where she might come back. I kept the wonder and the magic alive until she returned, and now it’s better than even I could have imagined.”