Saturday, May 23, 2009

From Denmark

Last updated : 22. May 2009

22 May 2009

The Danish circus world's grand old lady, Nelly Jane Benneweis, passed away on 21 May 2009, aged 74.

"Ladies and gentleman, children and adults, dear circus friends!”. That is how an entire generation of Danes remember that Nelly Jane Benneweis as ringmistress in Circus Benneweis welcomed the audience.

But now it is over. On Ascension Day, the 21 May in the evening Nelly Jane passed away after some months of serious illness. She could have celebrated her 75 years birthday on 15 June.

Nelly Jane was born in Bronshoj, a Copenhagen suburb, where her father was a master cabinetmaker and the father, mother, elder sister and Annette Otto Jensen (which is Nelly’s Christian name) lived in a house. Her father's pet name for Annette was Nellygirl. That’s why she chose the artist name Nelly Jane.

Nelly’s mother sent her to a dance institute where she was trained in classical ballet. After she finished school in 1951 she was offered a job as dancer at the Copenhagen Variety Theatre Lorry. Following this she travelled for several years all over Europe (especially in Germany) working as ballet dancer at cabarets and variety theatres. She toured with the Viko Torriani ballet, the Hoffmeister ballet and the Heinz Erhardt ballet and several other companies. She designed her own costumes and performed first as part of ballet corps, later with two partners and following that as solo dancer.

In 1964, Nelly Jane became compère at the Copenhagen Variety Theatre Lorry. There the Danish circus king Eli Benneweis saw her and offered her the job as ringmistress in Circus Benneweis. Together with her mother Nelly Jane went to Benneweis winter quarter at Dronningmolle and an agreement with Eli Benneweis was signed. Nelly Jane got her début as ringmistress in Hilleroed on 2 April 1971. In 1972, Nelly had the same job in the Swedish Circus Scott and was later the same year with Circus Benneweis when they closed their 1972 season in Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens. From December 1972 to February 1973 and again from December 1973 to February 1974 Nelly Jane was ring mistress at the English winter Circus Belle Vue in Manchester, where she got the well deserved pet name "Lady of the Ring".

In 1974 Nelly came back to Circus Benneweis where Eli asked her apart from presenting the performance also to be a kind of "hostess" and take care of the press. Nelly Jane’s office was a small office trailer where she discovered some big red boxes. When she opened them, they contained copies of applications to police, local fire authorities, etc., and Nelly realizes that taking care of getting such permissions was part of the job. "That I did not expect," she said to Eli Benneweis. "I knew that - that's why I didn’t tell you," was the circus kings reply.

Nelly Jane got the surname Benneweis when she on 9 April 1977 married Eli Benneweis smaller brother Sonny, who only two years later died from cancer.

Apart from working for Circus Benneweis Nelly Jane got several honorary tasks in the circus world. Among others, she was a member of the jury at the circus festival in Monte Carlo in 1990 and for several years she was a member of the jury at the European Youth Circus Festivals in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Nelly Jane continued as ringmistress for Circus Benneweis until 1994. Most seasons she toured with the tented unit of Circus Benneweis. However, she spent also for four seasons in the Copenhagen Circus Building then run by Eli Benneweis: 1979-1982.

Nelly Jane achieved with her charm and her winning ways an almost incredible popularity.

Up until 2003 Nelly Jane was Circus Benneweis’ press agent and responsible tour planning and authority permissions.

Even since 2003 Nelly Jane assisted Circus Benneweis with a number of tasks.

Also in other areas Nelly Jane remained very active. She was a splendid lecturer telling with enthusiasm of life in and outside of the circus ring. Nelly Jane also resumed a hobby from her youth: she began to paint and created a series of distinguished portraits of many of the white clowns that she had presented through her years as ringmistress. Friends convinced her to exhibit his drawings although Nelly with her usual modesty did not consider the drawing to be anything special. The exhibition showed that Nelly was a very talented painter who certainly could have made a career as such.

Nelly Jane had a special relationship with the Circus Museum at Hvidovre, Copenhagen. For several years she presented the Danish Artists Union as a member of the board of trustees of the museum and she gave much of her circus experience to the museum.

"It is a great and painful loss for me and my family that Nelly has now passed away. All of us in Circus Benneweis will miss her very much,” says Diana Benneweis, the present owner of Circus Benneweis.

Nelly Jane will be sadly missed by everyone who had had the privilege to know her. May she rest in peace.