Contemporary Circus Education

ART.ZIP: Circus has a long history in China, but it hardly has a circus culture. Do you think circus culture is stronger within a western cultural context?

JE: There’s a long history of acrobatics and circus in China – in Russia as well. Both have a very strong tradition of circus, but aesthetically they’re generally closer to traditional circus. Contemporary circus is to traditional circus as contemporary dance is to ballet. So when you think about a ballerina, what they do is very codified: there’s a correct way for them to stand, move, set their shoulders, raise their arms, and so on. Everything is very strict and disciplined. Then when they go on stage the performers are replicating what they’ve learned – they’re aiming to show their technique as perfectly as possible and they’re judged on this perfection. With contemporary dance you learn technique, but the actual performance is shaped by what you want to express – about yourself, about the world, about society. This is more or less how it is with traditional and contemporary circus. Traditional circus is focused on the replication of technique, doing something spectacular or superhuman, while contemporary circus is using those circus techniques and methods as a language, as an art form, to express something.

In the west we also have a long history of traditional circus. During the 19th Century you had these really big circuses in Europe and America, and for some of the massive ones in the US you could get an audience of tens of thousands of people at each pitch. During the early 19th Century you had circuses touring locally to small towns and you can imagine what it would have been like for the people there: growing up in a small town you would have never seen an elephant before, never seen an acrobat, never seen a contortionist, so the circus brought something that was amazing – something that was totally outside of ordinary life. Because of that power to amaze, and because of the power of spectacle, it became the biggest form of popular entertainment in the western world. Eventually film came along, which was cheap and easier to distribute, and oil prices went up so that it became more expensive to tour, and traditional circus sort of collapsed. Contemporary circus rose out of that, and because the old model didn’t work anymore it had to find something new.

ART.ZIP: 中國的馬戲團歷史悠久,但卻難以成為一種文化。您認為馬戲文化在西方的語境下是否更有影響力?

JE: 雜技和馬戲在中國有著悠久的歷史,俄羅斯也是如此。兩者都有很強大的馬戲傳統,但從美學的角度來說它們更接近傳統形式的馬戲表演。當代馬戲之於傳統馬戲,就像現代舞之於芭蕾舞一樣。芭蕾舞者的表演都有明文規定怎樣的姿勢才是正確的,從站立、移動、肩膀的形態到如何舉手投足等等,都有著嚴格的規定。所以當芭蕾舞者上台表演的時候,他們必須盡可能地完美呈現所學的一切,因為評判的標準就是如何做到所規定的極致的完美。但對於現代舞而言,舞蹈技巧是基礎,但實際演出的時候只是以舞蹈作為一種方式來表達自己,表達對世界,對社會的想法。這或多或少解釋了傳統馬戲和當代馬戲的不同。傳統馬戲專注于技巧的成熟,做一些讓人嘆為觀止或超越人類極限的表演,而當代馬戲僅是利用這些技巧和表演作為一種語言,作為一種藝術形式來進行表達某種觀點或想法。



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