Transformation, transfiguration, or revolution: the year was 2000, and we were still grappling for the right word to describe the epic changes ushered in by the emergence of a new form of circus arts just thirty years prior.
Now rechristened “contemporary circus”, this new breed of circus arts has become commonplace while continuing to evolve. Just as contemporary dance did not lead to the death of classical dance, so too has this new genre carved out a place for itself on the cultural landscape, without undermining the existence of “the old” circus – although prompting it to be relabelled “traditional circus”.
Does today’s circus therefore come in two distinct flavours? In fact, it comes in thousands. Its stylistic diversity is proof of its extraordinary vitality, and paradoxically points to its sense of unity. It also encapsulates the mood of the times: self-affirmation, respect for different cultures and multicultural interaction, and the shift towards tackling key problems through the medium of art.
The Internet cannot be credited with providing this diversity of expression with a platform. Instead, the way forward has been made possible by public authorities recognising the circus as an art form, and drawing audiences along with them. The movement started in France. And then it went global.