Why Circus?

I was required to write this short piece some weeks ago for a residency application. Originally, I was planning to take some time and really try to be as honest and clear as possible. But, as these things so often transpire, I ended up writing it in pretty much one draft just before the deadline…

So, I reckon it’s a slightly odd mix of honesty and keyword hitting, but re-reading it now, I am quite happy to share it here, and I stand behind it. And it got me to the interview, so it’s original purpose was fulfilled…

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Why circus?

Circus imagery is some of the strongest cultural imagery that we have. The clown, the candyfloss, the laughing child, the strong man and the beautiful ballerina, the horses and the lions. To say it is timeless would be a crass naivety, but the shared emotions that circus is still tied to are still alive, and are felt by peoples of almost all ages and cultures.

But beyond the imagery, circus should not remain a “timeless” art. Its core concepts – including physicality, strength and risk – stay ever fresh, but over time the reasons for its necessity change. We have a responsibility to keep our art form relevant and fresh. Circus is a “time art”: one that happens anew each time in real time, as opposed to the snapshots offered by painting or engraving or sketching, or the set in stone offerings of ballet or cinema, and as such it has the opportunity to develop and evolve over time, and at a quicker pace (how short our history is compared to that of music, or dance, or even cinema!).

Circus’ roots are in spectacle, fantasy and exoticism. In showing that which it was not possible to see anywhere else. Now that we can see almost anything we want, at almost any time we want to, we must look deeper into the purpose of the circus arts. Circus arts, the techniques that belong to the circus, speak their own language and carry their own emotional baggage and weight. To me, the biggest step that circus has taken in it’s recent development is that of opening it’s doors to people from outside it’s traditional families and dynasties. It is obvious to say that many circus practitioners today chose of their own free will to study the skills of the circus, rather than being born into it, and one hopes that that means that not only do they have the physical abilities to say something, but also that they have something they wish to say.

Circus as it is performed today really shouldn’t need (30 years after the birth of nouveau cirque) to justify itself as “circus with theatre”, or “circus with dance”, or “circus with value added art”. Circus should be proud enough to accept that it is an art, and then to look once more within itself to find what it wishes to communicate. I believe that not only different practitioners, but the different disciplines themselves, have personal and important things to say. Things that can be said better with circus than with any other medium.

Otherwise, what would be the point of practicing circus?

To answer the question “why circus” is to me exactly this process. Why did I become infected by juggling at the age of 14? Why did magic capture me three years before that? And why did those obsessions develop into the love for circus that I have now? What is it about juggling that speaks to me, and how can I be more honest to my artform in my interpretation and performance of it?

And what about all those other disciplines? Why do I “know” (or even have an opinion) about what a “good” handstand act is? Or trapeze or teeter-board or or or? The more the technique can speak to us, the closer we can get to the real meaning and purpose of circus.

This excites me.

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