The circus is in town! But there’s no fat lady, no one putting their head in a lion’s mouth and a hundred clowns aren’t going to come out of a Volkswagen Beetle. At this circus, elegance, athleticism and beauty are on display.
Circus for Women, by Women
Eliška Brtnická is a performer and the artistic director for Cirkus Mlejn and also the dramaturgist for the upcoming Fun Fatale festival of contemporary circus, featuring only women. Now in its third year, Brtnická said they had some specific reasons and fresh ideas for starting a new festival.
“We wanted to do something different from Letní Letná [the annual contemporary circus festival], something smaller,” she said. “For us (the performers) it wasn’t so comfortable to be in a big production, we wanted a more intimate environment, in a theater with a nice atmosphere. We took inspiration from a Finnish theater (now defunct) who only used women. In performing arts, when you have to use your body, you won’t be able to keep working until you are 60. We thought it’d be nice to give this opportunity to women.”
Brtnická of course wants the festival to get bigger and more people to attend, but she also says they want to keep a certain atmosphere.
“The companies that are performing are still small, soloists, duos, maybe three performers,” she said. “We like this because then there’s a communication between the audience and the performers.”
Brtnická and her colleague formed Cirkus Mljen also after graduating from the Academy of Performing Arts and producing a successful graduation show. She studied non-verbal theater and in her final years started training in acrobatics.
“We’ve tried many different ways to do contemporary circus, started with a theater focus and then became more inspired by visual arts and then moved into more contemporary dance,” she said. “Circus is a bit of a fusion of all arts – music, dance, visual arts, and we are always trying to find something new.” Cirkus Mlejn performs at the Prague 13 Mlejn Cultural Centre and in addition to about five performances there a month, also tours throughout the Czech Republic and abroad.
Circus Straight from 1930s Shanghai
A few days earlier, on March 22, the Chinese National Circus will be playing two shows at the Prague Congress Centre. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the show is called Shanghai Nights and will transport viewers to a Shanghai bar circa the 1920s-1930s. The Czech expert advisor for the show, Ladislav Knos believes audiences will experience a show like no other if they see Shanghai Nights.
“Shanghai at that time was often called the Paris of the Orient, it was a fast-paced, dynamic city, which mixed various cultures, ethnicities, and manifestations of global fashion,” he said. “There’s an acrobatic tradition throughout Chinese history; the tradition and innovation are linked to vaudeville and on the basis of this more than 2,000-year-old art, created a new form of expression.”
The performance will combine kung fu martial arts from the Shaolin Temple, artists from the Peking Opera and other Chinese speciality acts.
“This young ensemble of exceptional artists presents…a stunning show which will have the audience holding its breath,” Knos says.
Circus for Silent Types
Mime was the motivation for the forming of Mime Fatale in 2013. It grew out of a successful graduation performance directed by a known Czech mime Radim Vizváry. The reception it received led the girls involved to form a professional group.
“Each girl in the group is a bit different and has different interests in theater, but what bound them to mime was the influence of our friend and teacher Radim Vizváry,” said Mime Fatale producer Alexej Byček. “Also there´s the fact that five girls doing mime in new ways seems to be very interesting for the audience, which keeps coming again and again to our performances – some people even to every showing.”
The troupe is on a mini-hiatus till the spring, their next performance will be May 15 at NoD Theatre, and future shows will be posted on their Facebook page. Called Push the Button, Byček says it combines mime with live beat-boxing and virtual reality based on fighting PC games.
“We think that after some decline, mime is on the rise today, and our motto is that we ‘emancipate mime,’” he said. “We work for it to be more known in Czech society.”
Circus for Complete Beginners
Brtnická says there aren’t a lot of Czech kids who say they plan to run away and join the circus when they grow up. “In the Czech Republic, there are no circus schools so people who do it are mostly actors who learned acrobatics or sport people which a director knows how to use in a performance, but not technically performers,” she said. “No one plans to be a circus performer, it’s more of a coincidence, they are a theatre, sport or dance person first.”
Cirqueon, an umbrella organization for contemporary circus in the Czech Republic offers a variety of classes and workshops ranging from scarf hanging and pair acrobatics to juggling and modern mime.
Brtnická says in recent years knowledge of and attendance at contemporary circus performances is growing. She points to 2010 as kind of a turning point; more troupes were forming and having regular shows, like Cirk La Putyka.
“I think audiences shouldn’t be afraid to visit little performances, even if it’s something that hasn’t been recommended by a friend, something unknown, they should try it anyway and be inspired,” she says. “New things always start small and need to be supported.”
Do you prefer traditional or contemporary circus?