Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VIII, No. 2

Circus and Dance: Perfect Together

In an article that appeared in the NY Times recently, choreographer Bence Vagi, who also happens to be the director of a Hungarian circus company called Recirquel Company Budapest,  discussed the recent appearance of his company in a work called Non Solus at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  In the interview Vagi spoke of his evolution asa manager of  a circus company and his ideas about what the circus of the future might look like.  Many of his thoughts coincided with my own feelings about the circus’ future, and he addressed the issues of what the dance and circus worlds can teach each other.

To begin with Vagi does not think a company should call itself a contemporary circus unless by that they mean that they are not interested in learning from the classical circus because other than just changing costumes or music there is no way around using the art of the classical circus. “It’s a very ancient art form, “ Vagi says, “and you have to understand all of it in order to be able to think about it differently.” When people ask him what he does he always says “We do Circus.”

Furthermore, he says you can try to create a performance that is different in some ways, but you can’t ignore what is already there in the tradition. You need to respect that tradition.

The show he will present in Brooklyn is a sixty minute piece with just two performers. Judging from Vagi’s comments and the pictures accompanying the article the piece is a combination of classic circus arts and dance. Vagi points out that with just two artists in the cast partnering for sixty minutes is like the Olympics.  Need I point out that there are no circus acts (except for cat acts)  that run for more than ten minutes.    That is why, in order to create a full performance,  a circus ensemble needs at least five people.  The shows I review in the Passing Spectacle section of this issue are both ensembles, each with more than five people.

As far as learning from each other is concerned. The dance world has a much larger vocabulary than any single circus act and as more and more young artists are being trained simultaneously in dance and circus, the vocabulary is being expanded, otherwise two performers could not sustain an hour’s performance. The freedom of movement which results from this kind of training, Vagi says, “enables abstraction and abstraction can form more story.”  Circus is evolving into an art form which, like dance, can speak to an audience, opening up new perspectives.

The first thing dancers need to learn about partnering from the circus is the grip. You can’t let go because you are responsible for your partner’s life.   But knowing that there is an inherent danger involved in circus partnering is what adds an extra dimension of excitement to the circus that you don’t get from dance or opera.  On the other hand, however, Vagi  has come to believe that you don’t always have to do dangerous tricks.  “They might make you an outstanding acrobat but will not make you a great performer.

A day later the Times ran a review of the BAM show and another dance company’s latest show “When Angels Fall,” with the headline “Two high-flying shows blend circus with dance in feats of perfect equilibrium.”  Obviously it is not just circus performances and companies that are adding more and more dance to their creations, dance companies are doing the same with circus arts.  There is a symbiosis there that is useful for both arts to explore.