What is circus?

The current Bristol circus scene is rooted in the alternative movement that began in the 1970s and which was born out of the protest movements in France, the UK, and the USA. In the UK, the early wave of urban youth seeking an alternative rural lifestyle nurtured the early fairs in East Anglia and South West England, which added other kinds of performance to the music-based event. These both celebrated showman traditions, including circus, as well as introducing and popularising new forms emerging from art schools and alternative theatre, including ritual, installations, and walkabout performance.

Rather than looking back to old circus, the new circus drew on the Commedia del Arte, Chinese Opera and eccentric dance for inspiration. The rural/folk flavour of early new circus gradually gave way to more urban, political and modern influences in about 1990. It had a less nostalgic approach and sought to reinvent circus and push its boundaries. It was around this time that the new circus made claims to be an ‘art’.

Over the last decade and a half, circus has evolved from performing ‘tricks for trick’s sake’. It’s now recognised that circus needs an artistic dimension. It’s this artistry which we strive to inspire in our students.

What is contemporary circus with physical theatre?

For over 30 years, Circomedia and its predecessor Fool Time has developed and promoted the combination of circus techniques with physical theatre. British contemporary circus is now globally renowned for its theatrical flavour.

Contemporary circus is not traditional – it doesn’t involve red noses and animal tricks. Instead, it:

  • uses the body as a means of expression to explore balance, momentum, force, and gravity
  • connects to modern life rather than nostalgia
  • uses movement in three-dimensional space
  • explores the whole range of human experience through the body rather than through words
  • exploits technical skills to express ideas or emotions with impact

At Circomedia, we want to defy traditional concepts of circus and change the way people create and interact with the art form. We nurture a creative dynamic that refreshes and inspires. We are striving to sustain a dynamic interaction that showcases the transformational possibilities of circus, theatre, and dance.


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