The renewal of the circus in recent decades has happened, to a great extent, because it has given more space to dance, consolidating a long-existing relationship that was significantly enhanced. Choreographies have always been present in the circus arts as a scenic strategy, but in recent decades they assumed an influential role, sometimes in isolation, sometimes mixed with other techniques, such as acrobatics. This growth has as much to do with the eradication of wild animal acts as with the very affirmation of the connection between dance and circus.
This relationship often goes both ways. Important dance professionals, such as French choreographer Philippe Decouflé, responsible for the opening ceremony of the 1992 Winter Olympics and the play Iris (2011) for Cirque du Soleil, and Serbian national Josef Nadj have shows that draw extensively from the circus universe. It is no coincidence that both studied with French mime Marcel Marceau.
In Brazil, choreographer Deborah Colker stands out as the most powerful driver of this relationship with the circus: her presence on stage goes beyond the limits of horizontality, climbing walls with acrobatic effects and expanding traditional gestures. She was also the first woman to direct a show for Cirque du Soleil: Ovo, in 2009, which toured Brazil earlier this year.
Cirque du Soleil, founded in 1984, is mentioned twice in this piece because of the importance it has in the reinvention of the circus language, as well as its effective closeness with contemporary dance, while seeking to reach the general public through strategies that expand the repertory of movement. Instead of classic gestures, it has incorporated walking, running or swimming into dance, as in many pieces by German choreographer Pina Bausch, for example. Bausch, who began her career in the 1970s, was one of the founders of contemporary dance precisely because she combined traditional dance with elements of popular culture.
While in the French courts dance was used to validate power and reinforce the rules of civilization, the circus was always the antithesis of this: a space for what is playful, fanciful and popular. These are the very three features sought by many contemporary choreographers, such as Bausch, while being inspired by the circus. And turning the banality of everyday gestures into magic is an important key to this triad.
What composer Richard Wagner wanted for opera with the gesamtkunstwerk (“total art work”) concept, bringing together dance, music, singing, theater and visual arts, has always been present in the circus, in a way, but not from the perspective of so-called erudite culture.
Thus what the circus has brought to dance in the last 50 years is the ability to communicate directly with the audience through effects that convey playfulness, danger, excitement, and drama. And dance is now incorporated in the circus precisely because it has succeeded in appropriating these elements, boosting a dialogue that should only grow.
Fabio Cypriano holds a Ph.D. in Communication and Semiotics from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, with a postdoctoral degree from USP, for the research “A Bienal e a elite de São Paulo”. He is the coordinator of the Journalism track at PUC-SP, where he also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses. He is on the editorial board of the magazines South as a State of Mind (Greece) and ARTE! Brasileiros, co-author of Histórias das Exposições, Casos Exemplares (EDUC, 2016) and author of Pina Bausch (Edições Sesc, 2018), among other works.