In-between Circus. Cultures, Lands and Disciplines | HERMAN BASHIRON MENDOLICCHIO




CIRCa Pôle National des Arts du Cirque - Auch (France)


CIRCa Festival in Auch, now in its 26th edition, has yet again turned out to be one of the most prestigious gatherings of professionals, critics, artists and students of the contemporary circus. A specialised audience with an appetite for new trends, on the lookout for new worlds and circus acts, wandered enthusiastically and excitedly around the revamped military stables which these days host the festival alongside several chapiteaux and spaces scattered along the area by the river Gers in Auch.

Bright eyes, circus faces, inquisitive gazes and expressions filled the spaces, creating an atmosphere bursting with imagination, magic and playfulness. CIRCa Festival – with its shows, encounters and parallel activities – is so much more than just another international festival; rather it is a unique opportunity to research, analyse and reflect on a multitude of aspects linked to the contemporary circus. The ongoing debate on the evolution, transformation and transition between the traditional circus and the contemporary one; the creation of new conventions; the issue of interdisciplinarity, which is gaining an ever increasing momentum; the identification of new frontiers, trends, techniques and skills; the engagement of, and the different reactions and relationships which develop between, the artists and the audience; the limits to experimentation and risk and so on – are just a few of the fascinating and intriguing aspects informing the recent discussions in the world of contemporary circus.

It is a circus more and more in-between, and one that encompasses new and old worlds, thus strengthening the bond between cultures and disciplines. The aspects related to the intercultural nature of contemporary circus, the attention and assimilation of elements originating from different cultures, and the inherent and fundamental issue of mobility will therefore be the main thrust of the festival as covered in this article.

For those embarking upon a circus career, mobility is an ever-present feature, right from the very first stages of education and training. It is worth noting that when it comes to training and development the majority of countries do not provide a totality or great variety of courses and training opportunities, and many artists have to look further afield in order to gain adequate training and pursue their dream of becoming professional circus artists. Over the past 40 years France has been one of the countries that gave birth to and developed the so-called 'new circus', and at present it hosts several circus schools which have become world famous. Moscow, Stockholm and Montreal, to name just a few places, are other avenues that a number of artists have explored and pursued in their quest for good quality training.

If on the one hand being on the move is necessary during the first years of training, it becomes indispensable in the subsequent stages of creativity, production and touring. A show reaches its peak after tens – sometimes hundreds – of performances, and this necessitates going around the world in search of festivals, events and opportunities through which to showcase one's work.

The constant wandering between countries and cultures becomes an integral part of circus artists' character and personality. Continuously stimulated by new experiences, in constant contact with new people, ideas and visions, artists absorb elements from the different corners of the world where they have lived, and, to greater and lesser extents, integrate, change and use them in their creative process.

Besides the obvious repercussions on the personal life of these artists –  communal living, groups of artists who travel and live together for years, couples from different countries who get together through the circus – the intercultural dimension is projected and becomes an integral part of the creative process and of the different elements that make up the totality of the show.

Music and complicity

The choice, creation and use of music and sounds is an obvious component of interculturality. In the various shows staged at CIRCa, the tracks and sounds always played an important role, at times almost taking centre stage.

The influences, styles and musical trends chosen – or integrated in the compositions of – the companies performing in Auch stretch between the different corners of the earth, from north to south, east and west, creating in their wake a universe of rhythms without frontiers.

 La Meute 5_Torbjorn Brokvist

La Meute. Photo: Torbjorn Brokvist

From the traditional Arabic, Kurdish and Berber sounds of the show Azimut (by Aurélien Bory with the Groupe Acrobatique de Tanger) and La Meute (by the homonymous group La Meute), through the Balkan rhythms, the Gipsy essences, the improvised hip-hop moves and the all-too-evident Russian stylistic influences featured in the show Klaxon by the company Akoreacro, all the way to the tango, the swing and the capoeira dancing featured in the show Morsure by Compagnie Rasposo, one can see how music becomes an indispensable source of intercultural inspiration. Music is therefore a form of expression that opens up the imagination and the eyes, allowing one to look at and think of the different countries and cultures that are never too far away for an artist and are always within a show's reach and vital experience.

Music thus becomes an instrument of complicity, a device that puts the companies at ease and accompanies the unfolding of acts and acrobatics, intimately linking artists in a common motion and destiny.

The show La Meute, by the homonymous acrobatic company, is a striking example of complicity and union. The company is made up of six young people, five French and one Catalan, who came together during the early years of their training and engaged in a collective creative process. They met in Paris where they studied together for two years and later decided to move to Stockholm, where they have pursued and perfected their training for a further three years. The intimacy of the group, the deep trust and familiarity between them, is palpable in every second of their show. The scenography itself is reminiscent of a Hammam, a place that by definition symbolises intimacy, complicity, and at the same time is a social meeting point, a place to nurture the body and spend time in a serene and pleasant atmosphere.

Such an obvious scenographic reference is accompanied by the choice of music and singing. The extraordinary voice of Bahoz Temaux – one of the company's artists of Kurdish-Syrian origin – plunges the show into a sacred atmosphere, one that is intimate and cosy but that gives even more prominence to the profane nuances of the acrobatic acts. The Kurdish-inspired songs and music – reminiscent of those of Bahoz descent – as well as some scenographic aspects of the show, add some elements of interculturality to a piece that brims with rhythm, risk, verticality and sadomasochism.

Klaxon_Akoreacro_CP Niels Benoist 8

Klaxon, Akoreacro. Photo: Niels Benoist

Klaxon, by Akoreacro, is yet another example of a show where complicity amongst artists calls the shots. The company was born when four artists met in 2005 (Basile, Claire, Romain and Maxime) and trained, developed and grew in the streets, schools and tents of France, Stockholm and Moscow, their time spent together culminating in the harmonious union of six acrobats and five musicians. Eleven artists, a collective process, an incessant rhythm, and a constant attention to the audience – which they welcome in their first, much coveted tent – make up the show Klaxon. A true alchemy of music and acrobatics, to put it in the words of the artists, it showcases acts where the acrobats become musicians and the musicians themselves improvise as acrobats. The result is a company and show that is flexible, plastic, vivacious and dynamic, helped along by musical rhythms which draw from the Balkan, Russian and Gipsy traditions. The presence of the musician Vladimir, who introduces the acts in Russian, or that of the acrobat Antonio, who translates them 'unfaithfully' to the audience in Spanish, gives a touch of absurdity and interculturality in a show that defends the traditional conventions of the circus and the virtuosity of its artists. Akoreacro is a company that loves the symbols of circus, one that cares for and adores its tent, and one that resembles more closely the ideal of a nomadic life: free and constantly on the move. As Claire herself – co-founder and outstanding acrobat – admitted: "I need to move, I need to meet new people.”

Azimut: visions from Sufism

The extraordinary and visionary show Azimut, created by the theatre director and choreographer Aurélien Bory, is the product of a past encounter between the author and a group of acrobats in Tangier, Morocco. This intense encounter – which in 2004 gave birth to the popular show Taoub – was with both a family of acrobats spanning seven generations and a rather powerful symbolic and spiritual universe.

The show offers refined and visionary aesthetics. The ensemble of fixed or moving images, played out against the backdrop of a rectangular grid, are reminiscent of a pictorial and photographic process, and display a clear influence derived from the visual arts. It is an entirely theatrical representation – resorting to only some of circus' conventions – where an ethereal, oniric and spiritual atmosphere is created thanks to the expert use of lights, lighting, transparencies and darkness. The music taken from the Moroccan Berber tradition – together with the production of wonderful live images – captures the attention as well as the soul of the audience.

Azimut 4@Agnès Mellon

Azimut. Photo: Agnès Mellon

Azimut – from the Arabic As-samt, plural Sumut – means 'paths' and is a clear reference to the essence of Sufism and the quest for its different spiritual paths. Moreover, 'Azimut' is also an astronomical term for the measurement of the angle between the stars and an observer. Aurélien Bory took inspiration from Sidi Ahmed Ou Moussa, a Sufi saint from the 16th Century, believed to be the patron saint of Moroccan acrobats.

In the author’s words, the show Azimut showcases a strong connection with physics, maths, gravity and the idea of space, but there is also a strong resolve to create a spiritual and poetic connection. Azimut's story is for him an epic fight against determinism. Many of the show’s ideas, images and acts occur randomly during the creative process. The search for the essential and the elimination of redundant elements characterise the creative process of Bory and the group of acrobats known as the “Sidi Ahmed Ou Moussa’s children”.

Azimut’s opening scene – with the acrobats wrapped in black bags that move vertically up and down the stage space – comes from astronomy and is a reference to the dark areas of the Milky Way, known as Coalsack Nebula. The music and songs featured in the show refer to the mythological character of the jinn, the idea of an imaginary spirit, an inner voice. The use of wool in the show is a reference to the origin of the word Sufi, and in one of the scenes the material is used for its wondrous ability to attract light.

Azimut becomes a work in conversation with the spiritual roots of Sufism, with astronomy, culture and the Berber rituals, with the celestial universe of maternity, without yielding to any clichés but rather fostering the quest for spiritual paths to share.


The presence of so many intercultural elements and the ongoing experiments and interdisciplinary drift, are therefore typical of the new stages of contemporary circus, and could be fully appreciated also in the latest edition of CIRCa Festival in Auch.

The question of mobility and the continuous transitions between different cultures and countries, influence deeply the character, stimuli and creative influences of the different shows. Complicity, sharing and the ability to train and create whilst moving between different regions become abilities and elements emblematic of and common in the lives of circus artists. Mobility and its impact become therefore an important theme not only in the artistic and creative practices but also in the study and theoretical analysis of abilities and contemporary experiences. A fitting example of this is the project ESCALES – an analysis of mobility of circus students – developed by FEDEC (the European Federation of Professional Circus Schools).

Even the magnificent revamped complex where CIRCa is hosted is in itself a shared space where artists can reside in order to create their shows, rehearse, meet and share their creative process. The residency programme, the accommodation and the rooms created inside this new national pole of circus arts at Auch are part of a wider project supporting the creative process and emerging talent.

These new spaces, ideas and aesthetics are at the service of a contemporary circus where the transition between old and new creative worlds can flourish, and where the art is enriched, above all, through its gripping passage between cultures, disciplines and countries.


 Article published on: "Unpack the Arts", European Residency Programme for Cultural Journalists