16 JANUARY 2004
The first day of the Monaco International Circus Festival proved very much a family affair, despite the fact that Prince Rainier, the event's main patron, was unable to attend.
Prince Albert was accompanied by sister Princess Stephanie and niece Camille to the opening ceremony in Monte Carlo on Wednesday. His father was missing, however, and concerns over the 80-year-old's health will be fuelled by his absence.
The annual event is one of the most celebrated fixtures in the Monegasque social calendar. And royal-watchers noted that Stephanie brought along her new husband, Adans Lopez Peres, who she first met when he competed here with the Circus Knie.
The festival provides a showcase from some of the world's finest circus performers, who strut their stuff in the Espace Fontevieille big top.
Artists from countries as far flung as Canada and China come to show off their talents turning the principality into a hotbed of flying trapeze artists, trained white tigers and human cannonballs. Those lucky enough to attend the shows will see a who's-who of circus performers competing for the cherished Clown d'Ors prizes. Come next Tuesday, there will be a final Gala Awards show followed by a special winners' event on Thursday.
In previous years Cirque du Soleil and Circus Knie have been big winners and, needless to say, their renowned performers have returned in the hope of securing more acrobatic glory.