Colleano on Tightwire, Rehearses in Arena: The Wizard of the Wire

Colleano on Tightwire, Rehearses in Arena: The Wizard of the Wire
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Access fees

Dressed in Spanish matador costume with flowing crimson and white cape, Con Colleano commences his elaborate Spanish-flavoured circus routine. High upon the tightwire, he dances, bounces, twirls and balances, before executing a backward somersault that reveals crimson pants beneath his outer costume. Summary By Poppy De Souza

Learn more about Con in this article and see more of his work in the Circus curated collection.

The camera gently follows the flow of Colleano’s performance, moving with the action. By the late 1920s, the Spanish costume and cape dance he displays in this clip was fully integrated into his act. When performed for a crowd, it was accompanied by Spanish-style music.

Title synopisis

Colour home movie footage, probably filmed by Winnie Colleano around 1939, which shows Aboriginal tightwire performer Con Colleano rehearsing in a circus arena in the USA.

Title Curator's Notes

This remarkable footage represents some of the only existing moving images of Con Colleano’s famous tightwire act, an act he performed over a long international career.

By the time this footage was filmed, Colleano had been performing his routine for over 20 years, including his famous forward somersault. While much of the act essentially remained the same once it was conceived in the early 1920s it was, according to circus historian Mark St Leon, ‘refined and polished with the years of performance in the great circuses and variety halls of Europe and North America’ (The Wizard of the Wire, 1993). By the late 1920s, the Spanish costume and cape dance evident in this material was integrated into the performance, which was accompanied by Spanish-style music.

An Australian of Aboriginal, English and West Indian heritage, Con Colleano was part of a family of Australian circus performers in the early 1900s and began as a fighter in his father’s sideshow boxing ring. By the time he was a teenager, Colleano was performing on the tightrope and later moved on to the tightwire. His agility and balance (possibly honed through boxing) saw him develop a unique dancing and somersault routine that made him internationally famous, although he was far less well known in his own country.

Colleano was also a movie buff and owned his own Bell and Howell 16mm camera, with which this footage was filmed. The vibrant colour of Colleano’s costume is clearly visible and the image is clear. Collleano’s wife, Winnie Colleano, who was also involved in his show, most likely filmed this footage. It was said that Colleano rehearsed for up to seven hours a day and it is likely that these home movie recordings were viewed by him in order to refine and perfect his technique.

Notes by Poppy De Souza