‘Portraits of Contemporary Circus’, presented by Wim Claessen

Impressionist paintings are famous for the way distinct blobs of unconnected colour are combined to create a recognisable image. In this book, curated by Wim Claessen, a recognisable portrait of the circus arts today is constructed through distinct interview essays and elegant black and white photographs. Prominent figures from within Europe’s experimental and theatrical circus sector discuss their personal views on circus training, creation processes, inspirations, and the nature of contemporary circus performance – including its relationship to classical circus heritage – through neat magazine-style articles. Eleven of these are written by Dutch journalist Joost Goutziers, while French critic Anne Quentin contributes the stories of Antoine Rigot (Les Colporteurs) and Johann le Guillerm (Cirque ici). Claessen himself presents his conversations with Stéphane Ricordel, who co-founded Les Arts Sauts and is now co-director of Le Monfort Theatre as a home for circus in Paris, and Claessen also provides an introduction and afterword to the volume.

Wim Claessen has been a programmer and producer of circus for over two decades, founding both Festival Circolo and the ACaPA circus school in Holland. This book is the next step in his continuing contribution towards the circus arts, maintaining the family tradition of circus with the use of photographer daughter Vera Claessen‘s art work (one complaint: the images do not credit their subjects and, when not directly depicting the accompanying text’s interviewee, this leaves several images a mystery).  The book is published in English, although a familiarity with the Dutch context surrounding its creation is often taken as read. Dutch and French translations are also available online, with the url provided in the book’s postscript.

The essays are easy and enjoyable to read, and the images beautifully conjure the atmosphere of a hushed theatre or a laughing open-air crowd, the pensive mood of a practitioner or the relaxed real-life behind the scenes. Perspectives of global influencers who regularly travel to Europe with their work (Yaron Lifschitz, Samuel Tétreault) are placed alongside those of artists trained or raised locally in Holland, and those of touring European neighbours.  This varied mix of colours provides a valuable illustration of the breadth of circus today.

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Claessen, Wim. Portraits of Contemporary Circus. (‘s-Hertogenbosch: ADC Repro, 2016). ISBN: 978-90-815217-0-3

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