Ivor David Balding
Ivor David Balding of Weldon Spring, MO, and Bethune, SC, died on May 9, 2014, in Weldon Spring, from a head injury suffered in a fall at home. He had been suffering from severe arthritis and other ailments for years, and planned to retire in 2016 from his role as producer and artistic director of Circus Flora, which he had co-founded in 1985.
Born on March 3, 1939, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ivor Godfrey Balding (Frances Goodwin), he grew up on a horse farm in Camden, SC. The elder Mr. Balding and his brothers, Barney and Gerald, natives of England, were celebrated polo players in the United States during the heyday of the sport in the 1920s and ’30s. In 1936, Ivor, accompanied by his family, went to work for his friend C. V. “Sonny” Whitney, managing his thoroughbred racing horse stables, first in Westbury, Long Island, then in Lexington, KY. David attended the Green Vale School in Old Brookville on Long Island and the Brooks School in North Andover, MA.
David’s grandfather Albert Balding had been a well-known supplier of horses to the English army as well as private buyers, circuses among them, and he was introduced from an early age to the world of theater and circuses through his father’s connections. He began his career in show business as stage manager for the famous Broadway actress Eva Le Gallienne in summer performances at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. As a young woman she had performed as an equestrienne with the Cirque Medrano in Paris, where, through her influence, he secured a position as spotlight operator, and began to gain the experience that was to serve him well later in his career.
Returning to the U.S., David abandoned his studies at Harvard and worked for Joe Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Then, still in his mid-20s, he founded the Establishment Theater in New York, where he produced 21 plays directed by the likes of Mike Nichols and Harold Pinter, including The Knack, The Ginger Man, Scuba Duba, Steambath, The Man in the Glass Booth, and Lenny, which garnered five Obies and two Tony nominations. He subsequently went to work for CBS Sports in Europe, but did not abandon his interest in the theater and circuses. In Europe, he conceived and coproduced the Circus World Championships, held annually in London from 1976 to 1986, and also managed Jimmy Chipperfield’s Circus World in England. In 1980, he helped produce the first holiday production of the Big Apple Circus in New York’s Lincoln Center, before returning to his family‘s South Carolina farm.
David was drawn to the circus by his love of animals, and had befriended and cared for many both in and outside the circus. The inspiration for the next step in his career came from a two-year-old orphaned elephant, Flora. He had long wanted an elephant, and in 1984 David purchased Flora from an American trainer who had bought her after her family was killed in a culling in Zimbabwe. He also had long held the ambition to establish and direct his own circus. So it is not surprising that his solution to the problem of feeding and caring for an elephant was to make her the star of a highly theatrical circus whose mission statement includes the goal of “showcasing the working partnership between animals and humans.” The one-ring Circus Flora, with Ivor David Balding as its co-founder (along with Sacha Pavlata and Anouk Schmidt), producer and artistic director, continued to feature Flora from 1985 until her retirement in 2000, after he came to the realization that she was not happy as a performer confined to the unnatural strictures of a circus environment. While returning her to the wild was not a realistic alternative, he resolved to do the next best thing by allowing her the company of her own kind and space to roam at a natural habitat elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. The highly acclaimed 2011 film directed by Lisa Leeman, One Lucky Elephant, documents David’s loving relationship with Flora, who was like a surrogate daughter to him, and his bitter-sweet decision to act in Flora’s best interests while breaking his own heart. He also worked at promoting the international ban on ivory, with Flora playing the part of “spokes-elephant.”
It was through Circus Flora that David was introduced to his wife, Laura. They met when she allowed the circus to park on her property, wed, and lived together on a farm where she raised horses and basset hounds.
David is survived by Mrs. Balding (Laura M. Carpenter); his sisters Mrs. Staige D. Blackford Jr. (F. Bettina Balding) of Charlottesville, VA, Mrs. Pamela Balding Jencks (Pamela Balding) of London, Mrs. Hartley P. Shearer (Linda Balding) of Cincinnati, OH; and by his beloved Flora, of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN.
David’s acceptance speech upon receiving the Excellence in the Arts award from the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis in 2008 for his lifetime dedication to the arts included a phrase his wife was to have inscribed on the back of his funeral cards: “We must remember to cherish and embrace rituals which engage our hearts and our souls. We need something from each other that we cannot get from a computer screen.” The rituals that David employed to achieve this goal were those of the circus and the theater, and his chosen medium was the Circus Flora.