Editor’s Fanfare Vol. II, No. 7


Trends and Issues Raise Their Heads Throughout this Issue

Several of the reviews and FYI news items, as well as the feature article in this edition of Spectacle,  raise issues and suggest trends that have the potential of impacting  the entire circus culture in a powerful way.

News from a proposed school for circus arts which will hopefully be able to grant baccalaureate degrees includes the provocative, if not downright inflammatory statement that it will not use any animals in its performances.  Another press release from a circus in Cuba  makes much the same sort of statement.  Given the economic state of Cuba one can understand its inability to support animal performers, but the statement here is more dismissive, as if animals in the circus are passé and unsophisticated.  “Don’t bother to look for the lion trainer with his head in the lion’s mouth or any trained animals.  Today’s circus stimulates bigger challenges from the human body,”  the press release announces at the outset.  Such announcements make it increasingly difficult for those who want to see animals in the circus to convince the general public that this is a tradition that should be supported and encouraged.  Cirque du Soleil itself has never made such a statement, and these upstart so-called contemporary circuses should not try to build themselves up by putting traditional circuses down.  They are all part of the same community, and we do not need antagonistic  statements or declarations of superiority.

Although both the traditional and contemporary circuses spring from the same traditions, the circus community is quickly becoming as divided as the dance world is now with its two separate camps, classical ballet and modern dance.  They  may each declare superiority, but  both are at their best when they borrow from each other, as today’s circuses also should.  There is much to be learned and employed in each form.

Another  new, emerging circus, Cirque Musica, based in Texas, also ignores animal acts in listing its features.  Cirque Musica also points to another trend in the circus world—involvement with symphony orchestras.  This novelty was first introduced by Cirque Eloize nearly fifteen years ago.  Since then Circus Flora, Cirque Mechanic (whose work in this area is covered in this issue’s feature article), Circus Sarasota, and Bello Nock, and the latest Circus Mojo have all ventured into this kind of collaboration.  Some of the difficulties of making this kind of production work are suggested by composer Michael Picton in the feature about his work with Ringling and Cirque Mechanic and Tristan Moore’s musical composition with Circus Smirkus.

These two musicians also remind of us of the tremendous influence Cirque du Soleil has had on the circus world, not only in terms of the looks of  individual productions, but also on individual artists as well.  The latest example of its indirect influence is the  puzzling use of a French title for San Francisco’s Circus Center newsletter.  I haven’t been able to get anyone to explain to me how that came about or why.

Recently there was an article in the New York Times Week in Review section lamenting the recent trend in art museums to offer patrons more hands-on experiences.  It is no longer enough to come in and look at the art and contemplate its meaning and significance, museum directors are attempting to lure audiences into their galleries by staging “interactive or participatory experiences”  that are available almost everywhere these days.  This, of course, is something the Feld organization foresaw years ago when it first instituted the 3-Ring Adventure, which gets audiences down on to the arena floor where they can interact on a personal level with the performers.   Other circuses might consider how they can take advantage of this burgeoning cultural trend.