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HomeCircus arts without borders

Circus arts without borders

Arts du cirque sans frontières

Artes circenses sin fronteras

For a world history of the circus from Antiquity to the present day

Pour une histoire mondiale du cirque de l’Antiquité à nos jours

Para una historia mundial del circo desde la Antigüedad hasta nuestros días

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Published on Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Abstract

The aim of this conference is to decompartmentalise these historiographies by inviting researchers in history and, more broadly, in the arts and the social sciences (performing arts, art history, sociology, anthropology, etc.), as well as those involved in the artistic and cultural world, to combine their approaches. This conference sees itself as a first step towards a world history of the circus, while being aware of the limits of such an undertaking. The historiography of the circus is recent, and many aspects remain unexplored. There is a lack of works that build bridges between different national histories. Moreover, some of them have not yet been written. The history of the circus in certain regions of the world and at certain periods remains largely unknown. Consequently, papers taking a local approach may be proposed if they draw attention to these areas where the history of the circus has yet to be written. However, the emphasis will be on comparative or connected, global or even worldwide approaches. The aim will be to highlight intercultural dynamics rather than local particularities.

Announcement

Organisers

  • Gaëtan Rivière (Head of research at the Centre National des Arts du Cirque, PhD in circus history and aesthetics)
  • Quentin Villa (PhD student in Modern Circus History at Université Rennes 2)

Date and location

The conference will be held from 3 to 5 February 2025 at La Villette (Paris). This will be a hybrid conference (attendance and videoconferencing).

Argument   

For the past twenty years or so, the history of the circus has benefited from an undeniable scientific dynamism. While this development is occurring at the same time as that of global histories, no true world history of the circus has yet been undertaken. Yet the circus is international by its very nature. Although historiographers have already attempted to write "world histories of the circus" (Jando, 1977; Renevey, 1977; Mauclair, 2002 and 2003), most works study the circus on a national or even local scale. For example, many works focus on the circus in the United States (for example: Davis, 2002; Weber et al., 2012) but also in Latin America. National histories have been written about Chile (Ducci González, 2012), Cuba (Menéndez, 2014; Venero de la Paz, 2016) and Mexico (Revolledo Cárdenas, 2010). There are also "national" histories of the circus in Spain (Matabosch, 2018), England (Assael, 2005), Australia (St Leon, 2006), the Soviet Union (Neirick, 2012), India (Anirban, 2014; Nisha, 2020; Gandhi, 2022) and the Chinese acrobatic arts (Liang, 2018). Regional approaches sometimes dominate, as in Brazil, with works focusing on the state of Bahia (Carvalho da Silva, 2014), Minas Gerais (Horta Duarte, 1995) or Rio de Janeiro and its surroundings (de Carvalho Lopes and Silva, 2019). Finally, some studies focus on individual cities, such as Barcelona (March, 2021), Buenos Aires (Infantino, 2014) or San José in Costa Rica (Urbina Gaitán, 2002). Notwithstanding the predominance of these national approaches, a few transnational studies have been undertaken. Most of them focus on the Anglo-Saxon world and have been produced by Australian researchers Peta Tait (2016), Mark St Leon (2014) and Gillian Arrighi (2021), who place the emergence of a so-called "modern" circus in a colonial perspective. A comparative approach has been adopted by Caroline Hodak (2018), who studies the emergence of equestrian theatre in England and France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and Sabine Hanke (2020), who puts English and German circuses in the first part of the twentieth century into perspective.

The aim of this conference is to decompartmentalise these historiographies by inviting researchers in history and, more broadly, in the arts and the social sciences (performing arts, art history, sociology, anthropology, etc.), as well as those involved in the artistic and cultural world, to combine their approaches. This conference sees itself as a first step towards a world history of the circus, while being aware of the limits of such an undertaking. The historiography of the circus is recent, and many aspects remain unexplored. There is a lack of works that build bridges between different national histories. Moreover, some of them have not yet been written. The history of the circus in certain regions of the world and at certain periods remains largely unknown. Consequently, papers taking a local approach may be proposed if they draw attention to these areas where the history of the circus has yet to be written. However, the emphasis will be on comparative or connected, global or even worldwide approaches. The aim will be to highlight intercultural dynamics rather than local particularities.

Decentralising the gaze also means recognising the diversity of historiographies to integrate the multiplicity of research in front of a production centred on the West. While today there’s a proliferation of collective historical undertakings that seek to think about and publicise the diversity of historiographical narratives around the world (Kouamé et al., 2020), the first world circus bibliography undertakings were characterised by a predominantly Anglophone review. Raymond Toole-Stott's World Bibliography (1958-1983) was limited by its sources held in English, French and American libraries. While these pitfalls of research centred on the North Atlantic still mark studies, some historians are opening up to other geographical areas in Europe. The Union des Historiens du Cirque, for example, has included Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain in its Thesaurus Circensis (1990). This doxa of the "birth of the Circus" (Denis, 2018) in Europe is, however, challenged by historiographies from elsewhere: how does one write the history [of the circus] outside the Western world? (Kouamé et al., 2014) How can they be integrated into the writing of the world history of the circus? What are the consequences of this shift in perspective?

Shifting the gaze also means moving away from the chronological milestones institutionalised by Western usage. Taking a new historiographical approach means deconstructing narratives that begin in 1760: writing the history of the circus in Cuba requires us to interrogate sources from the end of the fifteenth century (Venero de la Paz, 2016), while the history of Mexico begins with the maroma in the early modern era (Revolledo Cárdenas, 2010; Pescayre, 2017) or is even part of older practices (Gutiérrez, 2017). This gap also calls for a broadening of the chronological boundaries of this Western history of the circus, from studies of Antiquity (Álvarez Jiménez, 2018; Forichon, 2021; Dasen, 2019), the Middle Ages (Clouzot, 2002, 2011; Faral, 2011 [1910]; Rey-Flaud, 1998) or the early modern era (Porot, 2021; Martin, 2007). Finally, this looks at the past leads us to examine the terminology and normalising use of the term "circus". When Kim Baston (2018) studies a variety of spectacular practices in the Ottoman Empire, she reserves the word 'circus' for a Euro-American tradition, while acknowledging a categorical value to this notion.

In order to counterbalance the "circusisation" (Pescayre, 2017) and naming problems (Martin, 2021) of current studies, the historical approach to practices and disciplines is renewing their historical construction. Historiographers and artists have sought to place disciplines within a long history, transforming the chronologies in use, from acrobatics in the West (Strehly, 1880) or in China (Fu, 1985), juggling (Ziethen, 1981-1982 ; 2017), the art of clowning (Rémy, 1945), spectacular bodily practices (Depping, 1871; Desbonnet and Chapman, 2022 [1911]), horse riding (Gaussen, 1893) and taming (Thétard, 1928). Approaching the circus through its disciplines extends our understanding of aesthetic movements and evolutions, whether it be taming (Rivière, 2022), clowning (Brailowsky, 2020; Vienne-Guérin, 2020) or fairground practices (Gourarier, 2002). This work of deconstructing norms makes it possible to overcome dichotomies, particularly in the opposition between modern and contemporary circuses. Rethinking chronology means not accepting ruptures a priori, or even raising unthought-of continuities. In fact, the choice to include the contemporary circus in historical studies underlines the importance of a scientific study of a field that has yet to be explored.

Finally, the aim is to go beyond the classic schema canonised by Henry Thétard in La Merveilleuse histoire du cirque (1947), which consists of using entries by country and/or discipline, concentrating on the major companies and the most recognised artists (from a Western perspective). To this end, five cross-cutting themes have been selected. Proposals may fit into one or combine several of them.

Circulation and itinerancy (movement, exchange, control)

In many contexts, the circus arts are practiced by travelling troupes, whether they are called "circus" or otherwise. Travel is a central issue in the history of the circus. This colloquium will therefore raise the question of mobility regimes and itinerancy strategies implemented by "circus artists", as posed for example by Mark St Leon (2014) on a Pacific scale. The focus may be on groups as well as individuals; the aim will be to understand the logics behind the itinerant model. These mobilities are accompanied by inevitable exchanges – economic, but not only – in which the proposals could also take an interest. In addition, the authorities generally seek to regulate and supervise these nomadic artists. Following works of Caroline Hodak (2018) and Chester Urbina Gaitán (2002), proposals dealing with the relationship between circuses and the authorities will also be considered with interest.

Circus artists and entrepreneurs (itineraries, groups and social imaginaries)

The history of the circus must also be written through the prism of the social and economic history of its actors and the national and international contexts. Indeed, circus entrepreneurs' place in the political and economic context of the entertainment market sheds light on the itineraries and strategies adopted to survive (Hodak, 2018). While contemporary economic logics and issues are considered in the analysis of the evolution of the circus arts (David-Gibert et al., 2006), the evolution of the economy of the performing arts over time reveals ruptures and crises, but also contexts of censorship, market liberalisation, or privileges granted to establishments or artists (Leroy, 1990). An interplay of scales allows for the diversified approaches necessary for the social and economic history of the circus, whether it be the itineraries of artists such as Chocolat (Noirel, 2012) or Colleano (St Leon, 2000), companies such as the Troupe acrobatique de Tanger (Telhine, 2013) or the Alexis Gruss company (Petiteau, 2018), or individual companies such as Cirque du Soleil (Toewe, 2014), Cirque Olympique (Yon, 2005) or FitzGerald Brothers' Circus (Arrighi, 2015). Social history explores the sociology of circus artists, from the definition of professional groups (Sizorn, 2013) or the emergence of new artists (Garcia, 2011), or even the evolution of social groups (Barré-Meinzer, 2004).

Shows (aesthetics, movements, hybridisation)

The history of the circus also requires us to study creations and explore the aesthetic movements that structure the evolution of disciplines. The interdisciplinary nature of this colloquium examines the structuring of aesthetic models, from a study of the history of the circus arts to localised approaches. These studies shed light on the socio-political and cultural ecosystem that allows new aesthetics to emerge, following the example of studies on the history of animal taming in a colonial context (Tait, 2012, 2016), or contortion in the West (Martinez, 2021). Collective studies on the aesthetics, poetics, and hybridity of the circus (Tait and Lavers, 2016; Füchs et al., 2020; Jürgens, 2016; Jürgens and Hilbrand, 2022; Goudard, 2010; Wallon, 2013) are complemented by geographical approaches. These works examine the evolution of aesthetics according to cultural areas: Catalonia (Jané and Minguet, 2006), Canada (Leroux and Batson, 2016), England (Saxon, 1978) and South America (Infantino, 2023). Studies of Moroccan (Escher, 1999) or Ethiopian (Kendall, 2017) acrobats also focus on practices specific to particular groups. The historical approach explores more current trends to reintegrate them into a long-term perspective, from the modern circus to the contemporary circus (Guy, 2001; Trapp, 2023), via the new circus (Maleval, 2010). This history reinterprets the past of the disciplines, in the image of Martine Clouzot's studies on juggling (2011) and examines the legacies of today's artists.

Circus reception (audiences, spaces, media)

As part of the vast task of writing the history of the circus, the question of audience reception seems essential to anchor this narrative in the field of social history (Petiteau, 2021). While the sources tend to evoke a generic audience, studying them allows us to understand life around the ring, and even spectator experiences (Lochert et al., 2022). The study of audiences from the past to the present (Salaméro, 2017) raises several issues around the circus: the consequences on creation, programming (Cordier et al., 2021) and performances. In fact, beyond the show itself, imaginary images of the circus are formed (Hotier, 2005), produced by the various media discourses. On the one hand, artists publish memoirs and communication documents that convey their discourse and legitimise their practices (Rivière, 2019); on the other hand, the different media evoke the circus and construct a constellation of representations. The press (Goudard and Amy de la Bretèque, 2018; Rivière 2022), television (Goudard and Vienne-Guerrin, 2020), as well as literature (Basch, 2002) and cinema (Denis and Houillère, 2019) allow circus forms to circulate. However, we are not expecting a history of circus representations, but we would like to understand the role of the media as actors in its history, in its dissemination, its legitimisation (Rosemberg, 2004) and even its transformation. Finally, we would like to evoke the spaces of this reception, from the place given to fixed and travelling circus tents in the urban space to the evolution of distribution models, via the spaces and times dedicated to the circus, such as festivals. The history of circus festivals such as those in Monte Carlo, Girona and the Demain provides an insight into the phenomenon of circus distribution and globalisation, opening up the European market to companies from Asia, Africa, Oceania and America.

Writing the history of the circus (historiography, sources, legacies)

Lastly, this conference will provide an opportunity for epistemological reflection on the history of the circus. Firstly, it will provide an overview of historiographies and look at the different ways of approaching the question of the circus and its history, both in time and space. For example, we could study the work of historiographers, who were the first to take up the subject before academic researchers. It could also involve looking at sources, in line with work already done on circus posters (Le Men, 1991; Anglays, 2009), judicial sources (Lavrov, 2013) or the use of the press in the history of the circus (Villa, 2023). From a global and post-colonial perspective, the history of the circus can also be considered through oral sources and the phenomena of filiations and embodied traditions. Finally, the question can be approached from the angle of memories and legacies, and the perception that circuses and circus artists have of their past.

How to submit

Proposals must include a title, a summary of the paper (maximum 2000 characters, spaces included), the language of the conference, a short presentation of the author(s) (status, research themes, emails, etc. maximum 500 characters), the focus(s) of the planned paper and a selective bibliography. Papers may be presented in French, English or Spanish. If possible, please indicate your preference for presence or remote participation.

Proposals for papers must be sent to the following address: colloquecirque@gmail.com

no later than 01 September 2024.

Timetable:

  • Deadline for receipt of proposals: September 1st, 2024
  • Notification of acceptance to authors after examination by the scientific committee: October 10th, 2024
  • Conference: from 3 to 5 February 2025 in La Villette, Paris (hybrid)

Scientific Committee

  • Gillian Arrighi (Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, University of New South Wales)
  • Philippe Bourdin (Professor of Early Modern History, Université Clermont Auvergne)
  • Pierre Causse (Mcf of Theatre Studies, Université Rennes 2)
  • Martine Clouzot (Professor of medieval Studies, Université de Bourgogne)
  • Daniel de Carvalho Lopes (Doctor in education, Universidade de São Paulo)
  • Alexis D’Hautcourt (Professor of French, Kansai Gaidai University)
  • Véronique Dasen (Professor of archeology, Université de Fribourg)
  • Charlène Dray (Mcf of Theatre Studies, Université Paris 8)
  • Julieta Infantino (Professor of anthropology, Universidad de Buenos Aires)
  • Éléonore Martin (Mcf of performing arts, Université Bordeaux Montaigne)
  • Natalie Petiteau (Professor of Modern History, Avignon Université)
  • Pierre Philippe-Meden (Mcf of performing arts, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3)
  • Gaëtan Rivière (Head of research at the Centre National des Arts du Cirque
  • Quentin Villa (PhD student in Modern Circus History, Université Rennes 2)

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Places

  • La Vilette, Quai de la Charente
    Paris, France (75)

Event attendance modalities

Hybrid event (on site and online)


Date(s)

  • Sunday, September 01, 2024

Keywords

  • cirque, histoire, historiographie, circulation, artiste, spectacle, histoire mondiale, histoire globale

Contact(s)

  • Gaëtan Rivière
    courriel : gaetan [dot] riviere [at] cnac [dot] fr

Information source

  • Gaëtan Rivière
    courriel : gaetan [dot] riviere [at] cnac [dot] fr

License

CC-BY-4.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons - Attribution 4.0 International - CC BY 4.0 .

To cite this announcement

Gaëtan Rivière, Quentin Villa, « Circus arts without borders », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/11o80

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