Editor’s Fanfare Vol. IV, No. 7

The American Circus’ Most Urgent Need

 

An email press release I received recently announced The Western Australian Circus Festival, which will run  January 23 through 25th.  In its three days, nine stages of various sizes, shapes and structure, including a new one-of-a-kind 600 seat big top, will be filled with circus, comedy, cabaret, and music acts from around the world.  These performances will be offered by over one hundred artists and more acts than the organizers can count.  They will range from family fare to adult, late night, bizarre experiences running from noon until midnight each day.  In addition to the performances there will be ample opportunity to meet, talk, inspire and be inspired by the performances and the extensive camp grounds, great food, markets, and awesome bars.  It is a truly unique experience, suitable for all.   For more information check out www.lunarcircus.com

I wish there could be such an event staged here in the United States.  Perhaps people like Keith Nelson and Stephanie Monseu should go over, take notes and come back inspired to make such a thing happen here.

One of the reasons such an event is possible in Australia is because there is a large and steadily growing community of young, professionals and pre-professionals, most of whom are graduates of Australia’s national circus school, The National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA), and one of the reasons there is such an institution is because it is funded by the Australian government.  These young people are brimming with creativity and a spirit of adventure and experimentation that has imbued the contemporary circus there with an energy and vibrancy that is undeniably exciting, and capable of sustaining and nourishing itself.  On the other hand  America’s community of circus artists  is aging and resistant to change and innovation.  Sarasota, Florida once prided itself on being the Circus Center of America.  In contrast to Montreal’s thriving scene of active young professionals, Sarasota is now mainly home for retired performers.

If there is a community of young ambitious, adventurous professionals anywhere in this country, it exists in New York City more than anywhere else and Keith and Stephanie are in the vanguard of that cohort,  and that is why I suggest they might be capable of making something  like Australia’s festival happen here.

I should point out here that I am not considering the youth circus movement, which but for some notable exceptions has little or no professional aspirations or graduates.  It is mainly a recreational activity like Tae Kwon Do.  Despite that program’s popularity it is not converting many to Korean philosophy.

Unfortunately none of the several attempts to create a national professional school here has proven successful as we outlined in the previous issue’s Fanfare.  But past failures continue to provide little deterrent to those determined to make such a school a reality.  The latest effort comes to us from Philadelphia in something called Circadium.  It has recently presented an “immersive circus experience” starring the young juggler who happens to be a graduate of the Montreal school, Kyle Driggs, as a way of launching itself into the world of contemporary circus.  We wish them the best of luck.

For another example of what can happen when a professional national circus school begins sending its graduates out into the world consider what is happening in the city of Montreal, as described in a recent article in the travel section of the Washington Post headlined “Montreal: Circus Capital of the World.”

In addition to the city being the world headquarters of Cirque du Soleil,  Seven Fingers, and Cirque Eloize, each of which has toured the world with their shows, the city is also home to countless smaller circus companies, many of which were founded by graduates of the National Circus School (ENC).  The most prominent performance space for these and circus companies of all sizes is Tohu, a purpose-built circular building that first earned Montreal the title “Circus City.”   As a result of the presence of so many opportunities to perform the city attracts performers from all over the world, first as students and then as full-fledged professionals.

Cirque Alfonse is just one of such companies, the Post article points out, that resides “alongside every other flavor of physical performance, from tightrope walkers and fire spinners to aerial silk dancers and trapeze artists.”  Another break out company is Machine de Cirque.

The academic leader of the scene is Patrick Leroux, an English professor at Concordia University in Montreal. He heads the Montreal Working Group for Circus Research. He says Montreal is to circus what London and New York are to theatre.

That hospitality can be witnessed in a former firehouse near Olympic Park, which offers professional artists who need vast spaces to practice, a comfortable place to train. In another such space, an organization called CirQus began offering classes in the circus arts.   When 800 people signed up, they ran out of space, and are now sharing space in an old church with Trapezium, another local troupe.

As in Australia, Montreal also has its own circus festival. Now in its sixth year, the Cirque Complètement overlaps both the fireworks festival and the Comedy Festival in mid-July.

 

These two festivals, Australia’s and Montreal’s and their national circus schools are the engines that provide the energy and enthusiasm the circus needs to thrive.  We need that here in the U.S. as well.