Publication Date

April 2017


Pedro Alejandro, Hari Krishnan




English (United States)


This thesis locates contemporary circus as a newly developing expressive form, one using similar choreographic and research practices to those of post-modern dance. I attempt to establish an understanding of contemporary circus as a form with specificity of technique, which possesses unavoidable cultural and historical baggage. In my first chapter, I describe the evolution of western circus performance, beginning with ancient accounts of circus performers, following the form through the Middle Ages and into the modern era. I take an in-depth look at the characteristics of traditional American circuses, and the ethical quandaries thereof. In my second chapter, I address the transition from traditional circus to cirque nouveau to the still growing field of contemporary circus. I examine Cirque du Soleil as a key figure in current perceptions of circus performance, and distinguish traditional, cirque, and contemporary styles of circus performance. I look at early instances of dramaturgy and storytelling in circus in order to better understand the creative mechanics of today’s contemporary circus. In my third chapter, I concentrate on the particular challenges of contemporary circus, from artistic and practical perspectives, and look to the methods some circus artists are implementing to navigate these challenges. In my final chapter, I present my own original choreographic works as experiments studying contemporary circus in practice. This research seeks to communicate to audiences, readers, and dancers a dynamic approach to circus-making and performance which follows from an education in dance-making.



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