Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VII, No. 4

Which Way is Up?

The FYI section of this issue is filled with news of various international productions of what, for want of a better name, is known as contemporary circus.  From these reports it would seem as if this new form of circus is definitely in the ascendance.   My only problem with that is that all too often these productions tend to dismiss or denigrate what it is that has made the circus the form of popular entertainment that has appealed to all people everywhere for centuries.  I am talking about skill, the ability to awe, amaze and delight.  These qualities are being replaced with what the creators of this new circus insist is intellectual and/or emotional engagement.

I have seen, over the more than twenty years of editing this magazine as both a print and online publication, many forms of circus.  No matter how the artists involved may have twisted or knotted themselves in length of silk fabric, I have yet to see one that has moved me emotionally or engaged me intellectually.  This is not to say I have not enjoyed performances of contemporary circus.  I have on many occasions been thrilled by the level of skill exhibited and delighted by the theatrical wizardry with which they have been displayed.

Some of these performances were staged by the Canadian National Circus School, the most important circus training center in North America.  It has always been obvious from these performances that skill is a highly regarded entity and the school’s students are coached to strive for the highest level of skill in whichever of the circus arts a student has chosen to specialize.

This is not a coincidence.  All performing arts are built on highly developed skills, especially if they wish to achieve a reputation for excellence.  I hope the new and developing American contemporary circus companies will share this ambition, for without skill they can never look like anything but amateurish self-indulgence.

Nor can they hope to develop an audience that is more than a niche coterie made up of like-minded friends and relatives.  If the contemporary circus wishes to win a popular audience, which will be its only hope for wide-spread acceptance it must not put skill in second place to what it considers to be something meaningful.

I would like to see the contemporary circus raise the level of artistry in the circus and win an expanding audience  but I think it can only succeed in doing that by giving at least equal place to skill and intellectual content.