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Asking Why

I have a great respect for circus artists and their constant effort to keep trying new things.  Always asking, how can we make this better? Cleaner? Stronger?

But what about the why?  Does motivation matter?


Why does my body move? What is the intention of the movement?

To seduce…

To soar…

To free…

To conquer…

” […] in life, everything we do and say has an intent, whether conscious or unconscious.”

An intention in acting, also called a motivation or objective, is a driving force that fuels and grounds an actor in a scene.  The idea is that in life, everything we do and say has an intent, whether conscious or unconscious.  When an actor plays the intention of the character in a scene it can help give the lines a deeper meaning and a more honest delivery.

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Persephone Bound_Leda Davies Photo Credit: PhotosDeCirque.com

In circus, the lines of text are the movement and the apparatus (or other circus artists, and sometimes, the audience) is the other character on stage.  When a circus artist knows their intention, they are able to unlock the honesty in the movement and breathe new life into what is otherwise a mechanical exercise.

If the artist doesn’t ask herself why she moves, how is the performance ‘art’, and not ‘sport’?  What is the difference between a circus act and an Olympic event if the person on stage doesn’t know what they are trying to communicate to their audience?

“[…] in order to uncover the meaning the artist must ask why they move.”

In French the circus performer is often called “l’interprête”, the interpreter.  A quick search on dictionary.com will tell you that a person who interprets, “gives, or brings out meaning”.  Therefore, it is the circus artists role to bring out the meaning of the choreography, and in order to uncover the meaning the artist must ask why they move.

Triptyque par Samuel, Anne et Marie

Triptyque des 7 Doigts de la main

I recently attended a circus forum in which the speaker, Samuel Tétreault of Les Septs Doigts de la main, was giving a brief history of contemporary circus and compared it to the evolution of contemporary dance.  Contemporary circus is a rebellion from traditional circus, said Tétreault, just as the flexed foot in early contemporary dance was considered a revolt to the mutiny of ballet, not that long ago in circus a flexed foot was considered avant-garde.  Now, contemporary circus artists wear street clothes instead of leotards, and in some cases, as with the shows of Les Sept Doigts, the artists speak directly to the audience, and share personal stories.  These are evolutions of an art form. If circus is to evolve why not address the fact that these are human beings performing these death defying feats, not props or objects.  They have two eyes that look out into an audience, a heart that beats and a mind capable of desire.

“An artist’s job to captivate you for however long we’ve asked for your attention. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky. And I don’t get to decide what truth is.”

In season 3, episode 17 of The West Wing U.S. Poet Laureate Tabatha Fortis, played by Laura Dern says, “An artist’s job to captivate you for however long we’ve asked for your attention. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky. And I don’t get to decide what truth is.”

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Persephone Bound_Leda Davies Photo Credit: PhotosDeCirque.com

In circus there are many things that can captivate an audience.  The draw might be the strength of the artist, their flexibility or their audacity to hang upside-down from one’s ankle 10 feet in the air.  It might also be the large (or small) scale of the apparatus, or it might be the number of acrobats in a pyramid.  I’m all for being ‘wowed’, but personally I want more from my art going experience, otherwise it’s merely spectacle. Often times, when I watch contemporary circus -acts I can’t help but disengage from the experience. Without intention behind the movement I’m simply not captivated.

“I don’t want the glitter and fanfare if it means losing the heart, the humanity.”

I don’t want the glitter and fanfare if it means losing the heart, the humanity. The movement doesn’t necessarily have to tell a story to keep me captivated (although my mind may do that subconsciously), but the movement must have intention, because that is the difference between circus as a skill and technique and a rip your heart out, can’t peel my eyes off the stage, wondrous performance.

Intention gives a movement life.  Intention is the artist’s job.  Intention has a role in the evolution of contemporary circus. Intention is what makes movement art.  And that is why the circus arts must ask “Why”.

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