Recently on the social medias, I happened by an interview with the director of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, speculating that contemporary circus should be called something else other than “circus” to differentiate it from the (and I quote) “nasty tents and hack clowns” that he perceives embody traditional circus.
Having performed professionally in both traditional and contemporary circus shows, it’s true that they both have unsavoury opinions of the other. For example, those working in traditional shows say that those working in contemporary circus are dole-bludging, unwashed, stale B-O smelling, pot smoking hippies that perform incomprehensible and pretentious shows without ever bothering to put on a costume.
Whereas the contemporary circus crowd say of their traditional counterparts that they are animal abusing, unwashed, stale B-O smelling, pot smoking gypsies that perform tawdry and tacky shows in costumes that involve far too many sequins for their personal comfort.
It’s easy to make generalisations when you know not of what you speak, and as with most stereotypes, they rarely ring true.
In my humble opinion, there is no need to re-name or re-classify contemporary circus. All art forms evolve over time, and contemporary circus is simply a genre of the art form. This makes much more sense when you look at other art forms and see all the genres that it comprises of. Take dance as an example. There is ballet, contemporary, tap, pole dance, assorted traditional dances from around the world. All dissimilar to each other in appearance, technique and purpose, but we still call them all dance. And just look at the multitude of genres that comprise music.
Personally, I don’t understand the mentality of those circus performers who proclaim “Oh, I could never work in contemporary/traditional <delete appropriate>”, especially if they are independent artists. Finding work as a circus artist is hard enough, why would you shun potential employers based on the genre of the work they are offering? Both genres are both capable of challenging you physically and creatively and taking you outside your comfort zone as a performer. I’ve had wonderful times, met incredible people and learn valuable lessons about performing and about life in general working in both traditional and contemporary circus genres and I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for the world.