Angela Wand // Photo: Klara Granberg

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Short history and overview of the street arts and circus

Swedish contemporary circus is considered to have part of its origin in the street theatre group Jordcirkus in the 1970 and 80s. They were inspired by many of the same ideas and conditions as their contemporaries Circus Oz and Archaos, and could be defined as political circus-theatre. In France the generational energy of that time developed into nouveau cirque, while in Sweden it diminished or was channeled into physical theatre – only to reoccur later. While today contemporary circus is growing wildly and in many different directions in Sweden, street theatre is very rare. The weather may play a role, but that’s not the whole story. In recent history street theatre has been strongly associated with the left-oriented political theatre movements of the 1970s – to the times of parents and grandparents – and as such has often been considered old-fashioned. This is changing, however; today we see young circus companies creating outdoor performances with the desire of reaching audiences that don’t find their way to theatres. Circus and street art remain connected, though as yet there is no independent outdoor performance sector in Sweden.

As early as the 1980s you could take acrobatics classes in Stockholm. In 1987 Gycklargruppen was formed, a company working with a mix of comedy and circus disciplines and inspired by the audience interaction they had encountered in street performance abroad. The first circus education was started by an artist from Gycklargruppen in 1988.

Another key influence was Stockholm Water Festival inviting international new circus shows to Stockholm in the early 90s. Archaos was a big success, and together with other pioneer companies like Circus Oz and Cirque Plume, they introduced the circus form to the Stockholm audience and to Swedish culture.

In 1995 Cirkus Cirkör created their first show with the support of Stockholm Water Festival – and the rest is history. Cirkus Cirkör has developed at pace through the last twenty years, going from a group of wild and independent young artists to a company that produces shows that tour the world, that founds educational programmes, that pushes for changes in cultural policy to improve the recognition of the circus form, that trains hundreds of thousands of children in circus techniques all over Sweden, and that has won recognition as a regional institution with a mission to develop the art form. Cirkör’s importance to the development of the art form in Sweden is immense. Since the end of the 90s the company has been located in Botkyrka – a city that has invested greatly in Cirkus Cirkör and in the development of the contemporary circus field. Subtopia is a cultural cluster owned by Botkyrka, with the mission of building infrastructure for the creation, touring and presentation of circus.

While we are still waiting for the new wave of outdoor performance to hit us, we nonetheless enjoy a variety of artistic approaches within contemporary circus in Sweden. Since the 90s different new circus practitioners have continuously emerged, each with their own vision and idea of what circus is and should be. Circus is performed in many different venues and spaces all over the country; it draws on all the performing arts and there is a growing audience acquainted with the form. In Sweden there is a national federation, open training for professionals, higher and research education, residency systems, networks, and within the circus sector we find an impressive number of international collaborations compared to other art fields.