Send in the clowns!

Monaco is preparing for the 33rd Monte Carlo International Circus Festival, when about 200 artists will compete against each other for the coveted Golden Clown award.

The event is one of the world's leading showcases for circus performers of all disciplines. This year, there'll be the usual acrobats, animal acts and clowns, and a welcome return for a group of North Korean female trapeze artists, who are expected to attempt the dangerous quadruple somersault.

Circus is arguably one of the most accessible performance arts, and is especially attractive to children. However in many parts of the world it suffered a decline in popularity during the 1960s and 1970s. Fortunately the demand for live entertainment featuring daredevil stunts, juggling and buffoonery started to pick up again in the mid-70s and today circus is once again popular.

The annual Monte Carlo festival was created in 1974 by Prince Rainier III who had been fascinated by circuses from an early age. It's now an important date on the Monegasque calendar, attracting many visitors and tourists in a normally quiet month of the year. Monaco gave a more recent boost to the circus with the establishment in January 2008 of the World Circus Federation (Federation Mondiale du Cirque), headquartered in the Principality. The aim of the Federation is to unite the global circus community in order to preserve and promote circus arts and culture.

The 33rd Monte Carlo International Circus Festival will be taking place in the Fontvieille district of Monaco from 15 to 25 January. It promises to be "The Greatest Show on Earth"!