Con Colleano: “The Australian Wizard of the Wire”

Flip-Flaps and springs from “The Australian Wizard of the Wire

Con Colleano - The Australian Wizard of the Wire
Con Colleano – The Australian Wizard of the Wire

After I watched the feet-tingling 2008 documentary “Man On Wire” about Philippe Petit’s high-wire stunts, I rediscovered an incredible wire-walker much closer to home.

Con Colleano (1889-1973), was born Cornelius Sullivan of Aboriginal, Anglo-Irish and West Indian descent. Colleano began his circus life in his family’s rural circus, the Colleano’s All Star Circus. He performed his first act at 3 years of age doing tricks upon his father’s feet called the Risley Act.

Eventually, Colleano could perform nine different acts including bareback riding, flying trapeze, tumbling, trampoline, and playing the trombone in the circus band. With years of training, he perfected his performance on the tightwire, developing his unique forward ‘feet to feet’ somersault. This took almost ten years to learn. His act was influenced by Spanish bullfighting and his costume was that of a ‘toreador’ or bullfighter. He would dance on the wire, performing flip-flaps and springs to a standing  position as well as the forward somersault.

Photograph of Con Colleano performing a somersault on the tightwire
Photograph of Con Colleano performing a somersault on the tightwire

One of the earliest donations to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection, the Colleano family collection of photographs was donated in 1979 by Mrs. Winnie Colleano (neé Trevail) – herself a well known Australian Vaudeville Soubrette. Other Colleano Family members are represented in the collection, including Maurice Colleano, acrobat, dancer and comedian; his wife Elsie Bower, Hoyce, George and Lyn, and Winnie Trevail (Wife of Con Colleano) also an acrobat.

Photograph of the Colleano family, 1932
Photograph of the Colleano family, 1932

Whilst Philippe Petit’s story is now being re-told in a feature length 3D film The Walk, Con Colleano’s collection provides a more intimate snapshot of the art of wire walking.

You can view more of the Colleano Family collection in our catalogue here.

Published by

Performing Arts Collection

Arts Centre Melbourne's Performing Arts Collection is the national leader among specialist performing arts collections in Australia. Established in 1975, it is formally recognised as a State collection and encompasses the history of circus, dance, music, opera and theatre. The Collection features over 640,000 items including costumes, designs, photographs, set models, puppets, props, posters, programs and archives.

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