ST. LOUIS • Ivor David Balding, co-founder of the long-running one-ring Circus Flora, died Friday night (May 9, 2014) at his home in Weldon Spring, the circus said Saturday. He was 75.
After a career in the theater and with other circuses, Mr. Balding founded the circus in the mid-1980s, along with Sheila and Sam Jewell and Alexandre Sacha Pavlata, with the goal of preserving classical circus traditions. The circus became a permanent organization and settled in St. Louis in 1987.
“He’s just revered in the circus industry,” Circus Flora Executive Director Joel Emory said Saturday night.
“The more I’ve been to other circuses, the more I appreciate the uniqueness of what David created,” Emory said, citing among other things, the intimacy of the circus, which allowed the performers to develop a relationship with audience members.
Mr. Balding began his career as stage manager for actress, producer and director Eva La Gallienne, according to his circus biography. He founded the New Theatre in New York, and produced 21 plays, winning five Obie Awards. He was also nominated for two Tony Awards.
He later worked for CBS Sports in Europe, where he created and helped produce a circus “Olympics” called the Circus World Championships in London.
He continued to work with other circuses, and was a consultant for the 1988 movie “Big Top Pee Wee.”
He also served as the first artistic director for First Night St. Louis.
Mr. Balding was given the Excellence in the Arts award from the Arts & Education Council of St. Louis in 2008 for his lifetime dedication to the arts.
The 28th season of Circus Flora is scheduled to begin May 29, with “The Pawn,” billed as a “mythic tale” influenced by ancient Persia and India and “drawing from the history of chess.”
Mr. Balding had been in poor health in recent years, and had made plans to ensure that the circus would continue. His successor as artistic director, Jack Marsh, was named last year.
“David has embodied the personality, charisma, and artistry of Circus Flora since he founded the institution. His big heart and booming, gravelly voice have nurtured so many artists over the years and provided a foundation on which Circus Flora’s unique productions could flourish. He will be sorely missed, and we will be sure that his vision remains the core of our performances in the years to come,” Marsh said in a statement Saturday.
Mr. Balding is survived by his wife, Laura Carpenter Balding. Funeral arrangements are pending, the circus said.
“Everybody involved in Circus Flora was part of David’s family,” Emory said.
The circus’ namesake, an elephant named Flora, performed for years before retiring to an elephant reserve after living for a time at what was then known as the Miami MetroZoo.
Mr. Balding’s struggle to find an appropriate home for Flora was the subject of a 2011 documentary “One Lucky Elephant.”