The classic circus, featuring performing animals in three rings under the big top, has passed away. What’s taken its place? That’s the question that CarlosAlexis Cruz is exploring with his studies in the rise of acrobatics and the modern circus. He joins us for this episode to explain how the circus has increasingly become a place where performers use their bodies to tell stories and invite the audience to join with them in celebrating the amazing physical potential of the human form.
Michael Lueger: Hi, and welcome to the Theatre History Podcast. What does it mean to go to the circus nowadays? The days of the big top and performing animals are gone, but what’s taken their place? And how and why did these changes occur? These are some of the questions that professor CarlosAlexis Cruz is exploring in his work. Carlos teaches in the Department of Theatre at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He’s the founder of Pelú Theatre and the Producing Artistic Director of the Nuvo Suit Project. Carlos, thank you so much for joining us.
CarlosAlexis Cruz: Thank you.
Michael: Can you give us a brief outline of the history of circuses in North America? What did they look like? and what sort of acts did they feature?
Carlos:Very, very interesting question because I think the history goes as long as tales as well and what people recollect from that. I’m researching indigenous acrobatics, which precedes what we already know from the formal circus arts. I think we will find in there, not only the roots of certain acrobatic moves we use nowadays, but also the meaning behind them—which I think we will discuss later about contemporary circus overall.
I’m very interested in the ritual aspect of it, and being able to illuminate why we use certain moves and certain aspects of it, and what we can accomplish with them. We know that acrobatic has existed probably since human kind, and I wonder and ask my troupe members, “Who was that first human that did a backflip?” I think in the 1800s, we have the first person who did a backflip on top of a horse. I mean that’s been documented, but who was it? That would be really hard to trace. I think before anything we need to understand why we call it circus.
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