Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VII – No. 6

Virtuosity vs. Poetry

In a review of a circus festival held in the Czech Republic, a New York Times reviewer posited some interesting observations about contemporary circus.  The review, headlined “The Highflying Meets the HighBrow” was buried in the paper’s online edition and never made it into any print version.  The review affirms a reaction I have had to contemporary circus, which it identifies as “a thriving genre,”  that its reach for the poetic and emotionally moving is a coverup for a lack of skill, which the reviewer here describes as “virtuosity.”

“Virtuosity  was subsumed into a larger theatrical vision,” the reviewers says of the several productions she attended during the festival.   This she suggests “is a significant development for the performing arts as a whole  as a gateway to theater and dance. “  The suggestion being that theater and dance is where we ultimately want audiences to go.  In this patronizing view of the circus  (contemporary or otherwise) circus is a second class art form.  The fact that a circus performance might be a satisfying an uplifting end onto itself is never considered.

But it is possible to have both virtuosity and “a larger theatrical vision” as has been demonstrated recently by Cirque Éloize in its latest production Hotel which is here reviewed in the Passing Spectacle section.  It can be done and it is toward that end I would like to see the contemporary circus set for itself as a goal.

Instead what we most often get in a contemporary circus production is, once again from the Times review, “character driven and compelling beyond virtuosity on display.”  In other words something other than virtuosity is the main attraction.  This is contradicted and proves my point I think by a later statement :  “The circus doesn’t necessarily lend itself to realistic story lines.  The characters have little depth and their final reconciliation is far less interesting than the final virtuosic trapeze display.”

Yes, virtuosity is more interesting, exciting and involving than any half baked attempt at telling a story, rising to the level of poetry or getting us emotionally involved.

Bravo virtuosity. It is the very basis of any good circus performance, and until it is the goal of contemporary circus I remain skeptical.