Roll up, roll up!

CircusA one-day symposium organised by La Trobe University (Monday, 5 December) will change that, widening the sweep of spotlights from clowns, acrobats and animals to historical, social and philosophical issues.

Symposium organiser, La Trobe Head of Theatre and Drama, Professor Peta Tait says ‘Circus has always excelled at publicising and marketing itself. From politics to street culture, the word circus has become synonymous with chaos and anarchy, transgression and perversion.

‘The paradox is that it’s also the most highly disciplined and carefully calculated international art form – yet circus colludes to exaggerate a reputation as risky and dangerous.’ 

Professor Tait will also highlight contradictory ways in which audiences respond to live animals performing in circuses compared with those that appear in films.

Her research, soon be published as a book, shows, for example, that viewers watching big cat acts on film can experience ‘dispersed, edgy tingling feelings under the skin and in the stomach’.

‘They might even look away in squeamish visceral aversion. But our studies of people watching a live act with four lions during a recent circus act in Melbourne did not produce the same sensations.

‘Can viewers become accustomed to watching lions, or are their senses confronted differently by animals in cinema than those in the live circus? 

‘And should animals be still performing in Australian circus in the twenty-first century?’ 

While such contradictory aspects of circus will be explored at the symposium, peers, fans, and scholars of Australia’s iconic Circus Oz, will be able to learn more about an exciting ‘Living Archive’ project, funded by the Australian Research Council.

Circus Oz goes digital

‘The archive,’ says Professor Tait, ‘is digitising thirty years of Circus Oz productions to make them available as a new model of direct engagement with performing arts – a shared online space for creative dialogue on the history and artistic future of Circus Oz.’

Professor Tait says other research topics encompass new contemporary companies and traditional circuses as well as Australian artists who have had a major impact internationally. 

‘Circus artistry and achievements are like any other major art form,’ she concludes. ‘They need to be preserved through documentation and analysis.’

Keynote international speaker will be Tomi Purovaara, Director of Finland’s National circus development mission, from the CIRKO Center in Helsinki, author of two books about contemporary circuses.

The symposium ‘New Directions in Circus Research’ is a joint event with the Australian Physical Theatre and Circus Association (ACAPTA). It will be held from 9 am, Monday, 5 December, at the La Trobe University City Campus, 215 Franklin St, Melbourne. (Near Victoria Market)
For interviews and further information, please contact Peta Tait on 03 9479 1712 or Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, 041 226 1919.