[This article was published in CircusMagazine #41 – December 2014]
[Author: Brecht Hermans – Translation: Craig Weston]
[Copyright: Circuscentrum – Please contact maarten[at]circuscentrum for more information]
December 2004. The first CircusVLO (circus flea) came out. A magazine for lovers of the circus, born out of the circus schools. Today, ten years later, the little insect has grown up. Through the years it developed into the CircusMagazine that you have just opened. Ten years of writing about circus. A good moment to stand still, look back and cast a glance toward the future. A perfect contribution to the end-of-year atmosphere.
Bubbling booming circus-landscape
Our story begins at the end of the 90’s. The millennium bug is biting. Kosovo becomes independent and Milk Inc scores her first big hits. But in circus as well there is a lot going on. The workshops are especially booming business: the number of members grows exponentially. The big five – Woesh, Cirkus in Beweging, Cirolito, Kay Fou and Circusplaneet – decide to join together into the umbrella organisation CircusVLO. A few years later our own journal is born. The journal is aimed at the members of the workshops: young people who do circus in their free time. Articles are written in which the different workshops are introduced or youth productions are featured. From the very beginning there is also attention given to the professional circus arts. In the very first CircusVLO there is a photo of a chubby boy, a child photo of Quintijn Ketels, who at that moment is twenty-one and just graduated from the ESAC, Ecole Supériere des Arts du Cirque in Brussels. “To be interviewed in those days by CircusVLO meant next to nothing,” Quintijn remembers. “The magazine didn’t even exist yet, so I had no idea what it was to become. In the meantime you see that everything has evolved. The magazine has become more and more professional, just like the sector. In ten years time a lot has happened.”
Milestone in those ten years was the founding of the Circuscentrum in 2007. The initiative for this came from the administration, and minister of culture Bert Anciaux. Central to his policy was participation and intercultural exchange, and he found in the circus an ally as the most accessible of the arts. To some degree thanks to a healthy economic situation some modest support came to the sector. Circus was on its way up. Hip for audiences and politicians. And it was to the Circuscentrum to canalise all that energy. CircusVLO was adopted by the centre, and soon thereafter the magazine was re-christened CircusMagazine. Koen Allary, director of the Circuscentrum since 2009, tells: “Circuscentrum has a broader mission than following up the circus workshops. It is our task to embrace the whole sector. That’s why CricusVLO had to become a magazine with an independent editorial office: the CircusMagazine. From within Circuscentrum we keep an eye on whether things stay in balance. It cannot be only about modern performances nor the workshops nor traditional circus. A balance has to be kept, and that is the challenge, edition after edition of the magazine.”
It is a difficult balance,” admits today’s editor Maarten Verhelst. “There is a big difference between ‘classic’ tent circus and ‘new’ circus. And these two directions can be found as well on the level of those who practice circus as a hobby. I think it is important that we cover traditional circus just as we do contemporary circus, with good in-depth interviews. Circuscentrum supports all forms of circus, and that is unique. In France for example one has a clearly defined organisation for contemporary circus and the street arts, Hors les Murs. For traditional circus or circus workshops there is another organisation. That is not the case for us. We have to maintain a balance between the different forms. I think we tend to succeed in that with the magazine.”
Not just super and cool
Throughout the six centimetres of CircusMagazines that have appeared over the last ten years, you notice that circus is looked at more and more seriously. In Flanders as well as in Europe it was recognised as an art-form in the mid 2000’s, and you see that in the magazine. Reflections on that art-form get more and more space. “A forum for reflection is very important,” confirms Quintijn Ketels. “It’s important to document work and allow others the possibility of discovering things they would otherwise not see. You feel that in the magazine, where people with a clear vision of circus dare to make statements. People write about dramaturgy, creative process, content. There is reflection about the circus world in itself. I find that to be very positive.”
Quintijn is certainly not the only circus artist who feels that way, but many others consider reflection to be taboo. There is a great fear that circus will become too intellectual. Dramaturgy has its opponents. Bauke Lievens, member of the editorial staff since 2010, adds: “Often people look at dramaturgy as the meeting place of the intellect. But that is very much an idea from the 19th century. Today dramaturgy is about making conscious choices. Questioning the form one works in. This is rare in the circus. Someone finishes their training in trapeze and that is why they must make a trapeze act.
But that is not how it works in art! You choose a medium – for instance clay or stone – because you can say something using that material that you can’t say if you write a book. There are specific reasons, determined by your content, for the choice of a particular medium, and vice versa. That consciousness is almost completely absent in the circus.”
Circus is a very craft-oriented art-form, dependent to a large extent on technique. Mastering a craft is certainly not the same thing as being an artist. In the world of art, the craft of the actor, the photographer or the acrobat is a means to express something. But the search for that something happens not nearly enough in circus performances made in Flanders. One reason for this may be that little emphasis is put on this during the training, according to Maarten Verhelst. “The higher circus schools where most of the Flemish circus artists come from – ESAC, ACaPA, Codarts – are too focussed on that one number, the act of eight minutes. This work may lead you to cabaret, or larger circus companies a la Cirque du Soleil, but you don’t learn how to create something. I think that’s a pity. The proof is that it’s the companies like Cie Ea Eo, Circ’Ombelico and Circus Ronaldo who are authors of the most important productions that come out of Flanders, and none of those companies came out of the education system. They are self-taught. And they just do it. With guts and desire.”
Koen Allary has mixed opinions about dramaturgy in circus. “An artist is less occupied with all of that, they just want to create and play. In France they talk an awful lot about the writing in circus. The discourse and the dramaturgy may make perfect sense, but that is no guarantee of a good piece of work. The artist has to be conscious of his creation and of his process, but without getting too theoretical about the whole thing.” Bauke Lievens shares her opinion about the place that theory should take in the pages of the CircusMagazine: “If it were up to me, there would be more reflection in the CircusMagazine. But there is no point in filling our pages with heavy intellectual articles. The CircusMagazine began from out of the workshops. That is the broad base from which our readership comes, and from where our new artists come. It is important not to lose those people.”
It is to the circus journalists to make CircusMagazine an in-depth professional magazine which reflects on the sector, and makes the sector reflect, while remaining easily readable. But are there enough journalists who actually want to write about circus to fulfil that challenge? Maarten Verhelst answers with true candour: “That’s a disaster. Many critics admit that circus hangs somewhere on the bottom of their list of priorities. Circus comes after theatre, dance and comedy. It is a question of making choices. We do our best to stimulate journalists to discover circus. But it is important that they see a performance that really makes them stop and take notice, otherwise their opinions of circus as a lesser art-form will only be confirmed. Unfortunately, there is a lack of significant shows coming out of Flanders.”
In other newspapers and magazines the pieces about circus are often given to journalists with established credentials, but who are not necessarily familiar with the world of circus. Bauke Lievens believes it is the responsibility of the Circuscentrum to teach journalists the jargon of the circus, so they can carry that knowledge with them to their specific publications. “The reader isn’t concerned with whether the journalist is an expert or not, but the discourse of someone who actually understands a bit about the art-form is completely different than someone who doesn’t.
That said, it doesn’t have to always be schooled journalists who do the writing. Who has more authority than the circus artists themselves. Since 2010 Bram Dobbelaere has turned his experience as circus artist towards the writing of a regular and popular column for the CircusMagazine. “In the beginning I hadn’t a clue what that entailed, writing a column,” tells the author. “I was given 1800 characters, but hadn’t the slightest idea what that actually meant. Ik thought: I will write a few columns and then they’ll look for someone else. But then I discovered that there was more to say about the smaller and larger issues within the circus world than I had first imagined.” For Bram the CircusMagazine is not only a forum for reflection but also a living instrument that keeps him abreast of the most important events in the field. It keeps him in contact with the work of other artists, the policies in regards to circus and the workshops. “And over the years it has taken on more body. Its own voice. The CircusMagazine has to remain rock ‘n roll. Just like circus itself.”
Today CircusMagazine is a place where amateurs and artists, history and the present, meet up with one another. But circus is evolving. What are the different opinions about CircusMagazine in the years to come, and how it needs to grow?
Quintijn Ketels: “For me the amount of space given to the workshops can be reduced even more. As long as you include all the circus workshops, you remain involved with the amateur side of things. A theatre magazine doesn’t spend time with all the amateur theatre groups. The essence of CircusMagazine is that it is about an art-form. We are looking at artists, with artistic ideologies. The magazine can be more selective. Many circus artists like to be identified as artists, while they are in fact only involved with entertainment. As a circus sector we need to be more selective and demanding.”
Koen Allary: “For me, the magazine can take on more volume. The articles can be more substantial. And I think we should actually publish an english language CircusMagazine with the best articles from the year, to give the Flemish circus scene a bit more international exposure.”
And in which direction should the circus sector itself evolve?
Bauke Lievens: “ I think that it is important to develop creation methods where the process itself gets more space. That the artist has a chance to try out ideas, and the chance to fail. Failure is taboo in the circus.”
Maarten Verhelst: “I hope for the starting up of more collectives. Everyone knows everyone else in the Flemish circus world. Go for it then! Throw your talents together, do some good research and make things. Fall and stand up again. Stop hanging on to your one act. There is a lot of work to be done!”
And that is actually a motto that literally appeared in CircusVLO number 7 in 2006. In that issue the plans that Bert Anciaux had for the sector were highlighted, followed up by the remark that there would be a lot of work to do. Maarten nods. “Indeed. It was the same story then. Circus is on the way up, so there is a lot to do. Well, now the time has come to say: Artists, stand up and do it!”
You heard it here.