Circus Sessions is produced by Femmes du Feu with artistic partners CCAFT. It is a weeklong creative laboratory and think-tank for 20 Canadian and international contemporary circus artists. Fred Deb, an aerial circus artist from France, will mentor and guide the artists through the creative process. This initiative spans the five families of circus: Aerial, Acrobatics, Balancing, Object Manipulation and Clown. Circus Sessions looks to encourage artists to engage in a creative dialogue that examines their evolving form, and cultivates experimentation in performance, networking, advocacy and audience development. The weeklong workshop will culminate in two nights of shows, open to the public.
Today we start a series of guest blogs examining what contemporary circus means today.
Contemporary Circus can be_______.
By Zita Nyarady
Growing up in New Brunswick, my first introduction to the world of circus was a touring Shriner’s Circus. Overnight, a tent and midway filled an empty parking lot with lights, sounds and wonder. Years later I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show. Inside the iconic yellow and blue striped tent circus were choreographed, colourful costumes and beautiful creature-like humans performing inhuman feats of strength and flexibility. In both cases, the circus felt like magic.
In the lead up to Circus Sessions, I was asked to provide a timeline and definition of contemporary circus in Canada. One timeline of contemporary circus begins in the early 1980s when Guy Laliberte and his street performer friends began Cirque du Soleil. The success of Cirque du Soleil’s early shows (along with Quebec’s wishes to promote a national identity and culture) resulted in circus arts becoming a recognized art form in that province. This support has allowed circus to thrive in Quebec.
As Cirque du Soleil grew into the corporate juggernaut we know today, other companies emerged, each determined to put their own spin on contemporary circus. For example, Les 7 Doights de la Main brings circus skill and spectacle on a more human scale. Cirque Alfonse works with a rural backwoods lumberjack twist to the circus aesthetic. Andreane Leclerc and her contortion work bring an element of durational performance art that pushes the boundaries of her body and the audience alike.
But circus did not and does not just happen in Quebec. There is a TON of contemporary circus happening in this country:
Halifax Circus in Nova Scotia, Circus Stella in New Brunswick, Femme du Feu in Ontario, Momentum Aerial & Acrobatic Troupe in Manitoba, Firefly Theatre & Circus in Alberta, 7 Story Circus in British Columbia and Artcirq in Nunavut. This is by no means a complete list; please feel free to share your local contemporary circus on our Facebook page.
But what is contemporary circus? In September, I had the privilege of chairing a panel on artistic practices in contemporary circus at the Contemporary Circus Arts Festival of Toronto. From this panel we learned:
• Contemporary circus can be large spectacle, fire, aerialists and dancers, spinning wheels of a giant tricycle driven by a clown called Foo (Circus Orange’s Tricycle).
• Contemporary circus can be human, 60 performers in everyday clothing, shaking, climbing and descending ropes (Anandam Dance Theatre’s Cascade).
• Contemporary circus can be a place to tell stories and explore theatricality, character and plot (Firefly Theatre & Circus).
• Contemporary Circus can be a great many things. The contemporary circus artist is an aesthetic alchemist mixing components of circus arts (acrobatics, aerial arts, object manipulation, balance, clown) and other artistic disciplines (dance, theatre, music, visual art, film) together in unique combinations.
This is why contemporary circus is so exciting: there are so many possibilities. Contemporary circus artists are pushing and pulling the boundaries of this form. I can hardly wait for the contemporary circus creation experiment of Circus Sessions!
Zita Nyarady is a dance, theatre and circus artist. She is also a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at York University.