Photo: Archiv ArtPrometheus

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Short history and overview of the street arts and circus

The Czech theatre has been incorporating circus art and aesthetics since the avant-garde era. Such trends can be traced in the work of the best-known representatives of the Czech theatre avantgarde – most notably that of Jiří Frejka, who started out working with the Liberated Theatre. The first performance of the Liberated Theatre, marking its launch in 1926, was a new premiere of Molière’s George Dandin, called Cirkus Dandin. The production was a mixture of clowning and farce, and made use of dancers, clowns, jugglers and harlequins. From 1960 on, we can see further signs of circus’ influence on modern Czech physical theatre. It was particularly clear in the work of Ctibor Turba, a leading artist and pioneer of non-verbal theatre and clowning who was also an important teacher. In 1974, Turba won a scholarship to study under Professor Jacques Lecoq in Paris, and went on to work as a director, dramaturg and mime with theatres in Locarno, Paris and Berlin. He also taught in the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (HAMU), at Scuola Teatro Dimitri, and at CNAC. Turba was also one of the first theatre artists to begin staging his theatrical clown productions in a circus tent.

Before 1989 the performing arts, especially its newer forms, could not develop freely. After the Velvet Revolution on 17 November 1989, and following the democracy established in its wake, the situation of the Czech artistic world changed. Ctibor Turba started to invite to the Czech Republic students and performers he met at the Dimitri School or in CNAC. Collaborative creative interventions, street theatre performances, even pieces with marionettes, started to emerge. in the 90s, and later even at the turn of the Millennium, some Czech groups started to use circus art in their performances or cooperated with foreign (contemporary) circus professionals. One of these groups was The Forman Brothers’ Theatre, which left for France at the beginning of the 90s and there became a partner of Théâtre National de Bretagne. The group soon used circus in their performance La Baraque (1997) in cooperation with Volière Dromesko.

Divadlo CONTINUO Theatre is another early fgure in the Czech contemporary circus – an international, independent theatre group which since 1995 has been based in the village Malovice near České Budějovice. So far they have concentrated on creating open-air theatre that plays in the countryside or in the streets. One of their most famous performances is The flow of time (2004), with acrobats Salvi Salvatore and Seiline Vallée. In 2006 these two artists established their own company Décalages - Theatre of movement that draws on contemporary circus forms.

We first started talking about ‘contemporary circus’ in the Czech Republic when Letní Letná festival was established in 2004. It was the first festival to regularly import contemporary circus companies and thereby to raise awareness of this artistic style. Before Letná there were only one-off events. From around 2007, Czech companies and organisations devoted to the development of contemporary circus started to gradually come into being.

Czech contemporary circus did not emerge so much out of the circus arts as out of the theatre arts – its stories and themes – which then became an important source of the aesthetics of new circus productions. As elsewhere in Europe, contemporary circus projects in the Czech Republic are multi-genre productions that overlap with theatre (non-verbal and traditional), dance and music.

PhDr. Hanuš Jordan

— Circus and Variety Collection Manager, Theatre Department, National Museum & Museum of Czech Puppets and Circus —

What are the most important challenges for circus / street arts in your country, particularly when it comes to marketing and audience development?
"It is to maintain informal and non-competitive cooperation between all organisations in the feld, from ‘established’ companies like Cirk La Putyka, Cirkus Mlejn and Losers Cirque Company, to institutionalised festivals like Letní Letná or Cirk UFF and umbrella institutions such as Cirqueon. Independent contemporary circus projects and individuals employed by institutions (as I am at the National Museum circus collection and Museum of Czech puppets and circus) cannot stand by. It is necessary to leave the flat and out-dated term ‘new circus’ behind and to talk about circus arts. A further challenge is the cooperation of different, even unique companies working in circus, movement, alternative music, and theatre."