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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Circus—an inclusive art form

Honorary Ringmaster Isabella Rossellini at the Big Apple Circus in 1978.
Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives.
by Chris Tyler

The circus is many things: an experience, a practice, a lifestyle, an education, a culture. But, above all else, it is an inclusive art form. “There’s no exclusion,” remarked Duncan Wall, co-founder and former national director of Circus Now, during a 2013 talk on contemporary circus. “Audiences of any class, race, or culture can enjoy the form and participate in it.” For denizens of a visual society, there’s something uniquely accessible about the circus and its focus on the physical body. People are not shut out from understanding the experience.

Yet, “because circus enters our lives so early in our lives as children...we become fixed in our thinking” about the form, as noted by Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo in the Beyond Physical Theater podcast (embedded below). The term itself summons images of elephants, clown cars, and bombastic ringleaders alongside the requisite smells of popcorn and cotton candy. But the circus itself is not codified—it is a non-verbal bodily practice. It’s a vehicle for expression, a delicate marriage of risk and virtuosity. It’s theater, dance, music, sport, and visual art—and the sky is (quite literally) its limit. Circus is an inclusive art in this sense then, too, in that it readily incorporates multiple forms while simultaneously blurring genre boundaries.

Ever since our first circus presentation in 1861—a horse show in the original Opera House on Montague Street—BAM has displayed an open and evolutionary relationship to the genre. An 1872 program featured, for instance, gymnasts, velocipedists, 40 pantomimists and a Humpty Dumpty vaudeville. In recent years, however, BAM has embraced the creative and intellectual revolution of the discipline triggered by the establishment of European and Canadian circus schools in the 1970s. By curating daring international companies working at the cutting-edge of the genre, new spaces of physical and visual possibility have been facilitated beyond the trappings of conventional narrative. Below, peruse some favorite highlights from recent memory alongside commentary from each piece’s creator. And be sure to catch Sweden’s exhilarating Cirkus Cirkör when it comes back to BAM next week with Limits.

Yoann Bourgeois on Minuit (2016 Next Wave Festival): “For a juggler, the suspension point is that brief moment when an object thrown in the air arrives at the summit of its arc before it falls. That’s what I’m looking for: the absolute present of that moment. It’s the ideal place—the peak before the fall, that moment of weightlessness, the moment when everything is possible.”

Daniele Finzi Pasca on La Verità (2016 Winter/Spring Season): “The language of acrobatics, of physical theatre may easily conquer a territory where it is neither night or day, where light doesn’t touch reality but designs it, invents it or reinvents it. The language of the acrobats titillates our unconscious, making us see inner landscapes that appear truer than reality. Dalíi’s landscapes are set during night or day? The answer: neither, Dalí’s images belong to another dimension, the dimension of dreams.”

Yaron Lifschitz on Opus (2015 Next Wave Festival): “The world doesn’t reveal itself to me like a story...a poem or a piece of music has, for me, the right of kind of consistency for the reality that I see around me...I like abstract art, I like music, I like poetry, I like things that cause feel and experience things without describing what those things are.”

Limits, an acrobatic exploration of an EU in flux, comes to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Jun 7—10. Craving more? The inimitable James Thierrée returns to the Next Wave Festival this fall with La grenouille avait raison.

Chris Tyler is BAM’s Content Marketing Coordinator.

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