Maaike van Langen: Circus binds Europe
  • cirko_kuva_kaapo kamu (2)_rajattu
18 September 2015

In the wonderful bundle of essays by Pieter Steinz in Made in Europe: De kunst die ons continent bindt (Made in Europe: The Art Which Binds Our Continent), two hundred and eight European examples of culture are enthusiastically described and playfully connected. From Alvar Aalto to Rem Koolhaas. From rabbit character Miffy (Nijntje in Dutchto Jacques Brel and Rubens.  It shows that ‘Europe’ is more than ‘Brussels’, Kafkaesque rules and the Euro.  It tries to fathom what is typical European? What makes us proud? This results in an impressive kaleidoscope of what one could call a sneak peak in the European soul. Unfortunately for now it’s only available in Dutch but one can find a translated appetizer here.

No circus is mentioned in the book. But I dare say that circus is the most European art form of all – it has real binding qualities that pass all borders. Over the last decades also a real European circus community has been created. I experience it every time when I go to meeting of Circostrada, a network of over fifty organizations from all the corners of Europe that advocate for circus and street-arts and meet every time in a different country or a different festival. No matter where we come from we all have the same love for this wonderful, powerful art form.

Even though circus has been around for some time, it has only very recently – since a few decades – been acknowledged as an ‘art form’ by governments and funding bodies. Actually one of the things that binds the circus world together, is that circus gets the very smallest slice of the ‘budget cake’ in performing arts state budgets in Europe. In some countries like France the slice of the cake is bigger, and in other countries like the Netherlands the slice of the cake for circus does not yet exist.

It’s quite remarkable that different cornerstones of the European circus are spread out over different countries. For example Finland has its own circus centre with a space, offices, spaces to perform, and have residencies. They have and support for Finnish circus performers and a few circus festivals. But there is no bachelor’s degree program to become a professional circus artist.

In Belgium it’s again a different story. The cultural policy is divided by language (Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Waalse Gemeenschap and the exception of the rule the Brussels Gewest) so there is a Flemish Circus Centre, there are some Flemish residency spaces, many circus festivals throughout Belgium (but most of them in the Flemish part) and a French spoken BA-circus school in Brussels. There is even a special circus-strand in state budgets with an allocated budget for circus: creation, promotion and presentation.

Whereas in the Netherlands there are two BA degrees to become a circus artists, no residency spaces, no circus centre, no structural funding from the state towards circus-festivals-companies-artists, but two circus festivals that work hard in creating a lively and better environment for the development, presentation and audience development for circus.

Isn’t it strange that one country strongly believes in and invests in the education of a (relatively) new art form but creates no to very little opportunities afterwards? Where another country creates a National Circus Centre but has no schools to launch the new professional talents for the future?  Europe is a patchwork of opportunities for circus and to be working in this field (as an artist, educator, festival organizer or promoter) one MUST look beyond the borders.

So if you want to develop yourself as a professional circus artist it can very well be that you’re born in one country, educated in another corner of Europe, to go and live in yet another European country to build your career and have more performing possibilities. This is almost a necessity, with of course the exemption of France where there has been policy and money for circus development since the mid 80’s.  I find it weird (but hey, that’s politics) that companies are still presented by the country they come from; although the artists have different nationalities and reside in different countries.

On the other hand the shows can still be an expression of very ‘traditional/typical’ or iconic cultural feats of one country. Like the typical Finnish humour in Capilotratées by Elice & Sanja which for sure is differently perceived in Belgium or Holland than in Finland. I’m proud to be part of this wonderful European community. I feel closely connected by circus lovers that go beyond language and borders. It makes me feel European.

Maaike van Langen is Artistic Director of the Rotterdam Circusstad festival, where for 2015 edition she programmed also two Finnish shows – Race Horse Company and Elice & Sanja – Cie Galapiat Cirque. In May she visited the Cirko Festival and Circostrada meeting in Helsinki, with the support of the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux.

Photo © Kaapo Kamu

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