New or Contemporary Circus, also known as nouveau cirque or cirque
contemporain in French-speaking countries, is a genre of performing
arts developed in the late 20th century in which a story or theme is
conveyed through traditional circus skills.
Animals are rarely used in this type of performance, and traditional
circus skills are blended with a more character-driven approach.
Compared with the traditional circuses of the past, the contemporary
approach tends to focus more attention on the overall aesthetic
impact, sometimes on character and story development, and on the use
of lighting design, original music, and costume design to convey
thematic or narrative content.
3 See also
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Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil performing
Dralion in Vienna, 2004
The 'new circus' or 'nouveau cirque' movement originated in the 1970s
in France, Australia, the West Coast of the United States and the
United Kingdom at much the same time.
Early examples of 'new circus' or 'nouveau cirque' companies include:
Royal Lichtenstein Circus, founded in San Jose, CA in 1970; Circus Oz,
forged in Australia in 1977 from SoapBox Circus and New Circus, both
founded in the early 1970s; the Pickle Family Circus, founded in San
Francisco in 1975;
Ra-Ra Zoo in 1984 in London;
Nofit State Circus
Nofit State Circus in
1984 from Wales; Cirque du Soleil, founded in
Quebec in 1984; Cirque
Archaos from France in 1984 and 1986 respectively. Some of
the impetus came from a political theatre movement and some from a
growing street theatre and renaissance fair asthetic. Two very
different but notable companies,
Archaos and Cirque du Soliel, can be
traced to small groups of theatre people taking to the road in horse
drawn caravans and creating 'circus' shows on the road.
More recent examples include: Cirque Éloize, founded in Quebec
(1993); Arizona's Flam Chen (1994); New York's Bindlestiff Family
Cirkus (1995); Sweden's
Cirkus Cirkör (1995); Teatro ZinZanni,
founded in Seattle (1998); the West African Circus Baobab (late
1990s); Montreal's Les 7 doigts de la main founded in 2002, San
Francisco's Vau De Vire Society;
Wanderlust Circus from Portland,
Oregon; Australia's Circa (2004); Asheville's Fox & Beggar
Theater and American cirque noir companies Lucent Dossier Experience,
Cirque Mechanics (2004),PURE Cirkus (2004), and the Red Light
Variety Show of Boise, Idaho (2008).
The genre includes other circus troupes such as the Vermont-based
Circus Smirkus (founded in 1987 by Rob Mermin), Le Cirque Imaginaire
(later renamed Le Cirque Invisible, both founded and directed by
Victoria Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin), the Tiger Lillies, and
Dislocate, while The
Jim Rose Circus
Jim Rose Circus is an interesting take on the
circus sideshow. In Northern England, Skewed Circus combines punk,
rap, dance music, comedy, and stunts to deliver "pop-circus"
entertainment to young urban audiences.
Circus 1903 in 2017 moved to the Paris Theater at the Paris Las Vegas
hotel and casino.
It could be argued that the blending of traditional circus arts with
contemporary aesthetic sensibilities and theatrical techniques has
revitalized the general public's interest in and appetite for the
circus. Certainly the most conspicuous success story has been that of
Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus company whose estimated annual
revenue now exceeds US$810 million, and whose nouveau cirque
shows have been seen by nearly 90 million spectators in over 200
cities on five continents.
Contemporary circus sometimes combines traditional circus skills and
theatrical techniques to convey a story or theme. Such acts may
include acrobatics, juggling, aerial work, acting, comedy, magic,
music and other elements. Contemporary Circus productions may often be
staged in theaters or in outdoor tents. Music is often composed
exclusively for the production, and aesthetic influences are drawn as
much from contemporary culture as from circus tradition. Animal acts
appear less frequently in contemporary circus than in traditional
circus. Theatrical scenes or clown gags may provide seamless segues
between acts, making the traditional role of the ringmaster redundant.
Below is a table comparing several aspects of traditional and
contemporary circus performances.
Typically performed by
Conservatory or self-trained artists
Typical staging format
Tiered seating around an oval or circular arena called a ring, under a
large tent called the big top
Auditorium seating in front of proscenium stage, although some
companies perform in the round and/or under a tent
Typical production format
Series of spectacle-oriented acts presided over by a ringmaster, who
has a role similar to a master of ceremonies
Series of theatrical, character-driven acts tied together by a central
narrative or abstract theme.
Uptempo marches, waltzes, etc. Music's purpose is to raise the energy
level and create a sense of spectacle.
A variety of genres and moods. Music also assists in dramatizing the
show's themes, characters, and/or narrative.
"Extreme circus" is a high-energy, street-inspired genre of
contemporary circus whose aesthetic is more free-form and
improvisational; its music may encompass hip hop, virtuosic percussion
^ Circus Baobab
^ Vau De Vire Society
^ Wanderlust Circus
^ PURE Cirkus
^ Skewed Circus Archived December 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Las Vegas Review-Journal
^ Collins, Glenn (April 28, 2009). "Run Away to the Circus? No need.
It's Staying Here". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-30.
^ "About Cirque du Soleil". Cirque du Soleil. Archived from the
original on 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2009-09-30.
^ Sydney Morning Herald - Act that turns the