circus

circus
   In the course of the past two decades there have been two signal and connected developments within the reshaping of the circus in Britain. First, an ongoing public controversy about the training, performance and keeping of animals by circus companies has resulted in around 180 local authorities nationwide banning circuses with animal acts. The economic impact on traditional circuses such as Cottle’s, Chipperfield’s, Roberts’ and Miller’s has been severe, forcing them either to adapt in various ways or to supplement their tours with shows abroad. A major boon to these companies in the last decade, however, has been the exodus of highly skilled and state-trained performers from the former Soviet Union. Second, there has been a growing excitement of interest in what has been dubbed the ‘New Circus’. Though there exist huge variations in both scale and style within the ‘New Circus’, what unites them all is their rejection of animal performers as well as a common genesis in the alternative arts of the 1970s, particularly street theatre and dance. Some of the performers, such as Pierrot Pillot-Bidon (founder of the French company Archaos), are the renegade children of the traditional circus families in circus schools such as Circus Space in London. Two results of this broadening of the availability of skills have been that there is now more artistic interchange between circus and other perfor-mancebased arts so that circus skills are more in evidence within contemporary dance, opera and theatre, and at the same time the ‘New Circus’ is frequently more theatrical and narrative-based or theme-based than it has been since the early nineteenth century. Government funding for such training in the UK has been practically non-existent, so European and North American companies (for example Cirque du Soleil, The Big Apple Circus, Circus Baroque and Circus Oz) have tended to dominate the stage. From the outset, however, the circus (founded in London in 1768 by Philip Astley) quickly became identified for its internationalism and this is just as true for the ‘New Circus’. Finally, the relationship between ‘old’ and ‘new’ circus in Britain is not necessarily an antagonistic one, as was demonstrated by Circus of Horrors, the commercially successful collaborative project between Archaos and Gerry Cottle.
   See also: mime; physical theatre
   HELEN STODDART

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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