Alchemy and Poetry in Circus Days and Nights

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Alchemy and Poetry in Circus Days and Nights

The show begins. A bearded man’s shadowed profile engulfs the white wall of a fabric tent. Wire figurines of circus performers spiral around him. This whimsical opening signals that the next few hours will be filled with pleasant storytelling. The oom-pah-pah of a bass trombone, and the sweet melody of an accordion are a warm invitation to Circus Days and Nights, the latest collaboration between Tilde Björfors, director of Cirkus Cirkör, and composer Philip Glass. Based on writings by Robert Lax, the production creates an affectual experience. There is rolling poetic text, gorgeous vocal arrangements, stunning circus feats, and delicious design features. But more than anything, I was left abuzz with a sensation that sits amongst and between these elements–a sensation that feels hard to pin down. It’s part nostalgia, part fantasy. It feels like being on a journey–when you are simultaneously propelled by history and summoned by the future, which creates a palpable immediacy to the present moment. 
Lax’s trilogy of long poems, “Circus of the Sun,” “Mogador’s Book,” and “Sunset City,” which comprise his publication Circus Days and Nights, are products of his time spent traveling with and recording the lives of the Crisitiani family in the mid 20th century. By immersing himself in the circus lifestyle but maintaining his role as an observer, Lax extracted an essence of not just circus as a performing art but circus as life. And in reciprocity, his poetry also captures what life has to gain from circus. His poems are valuable ethnographic accounts of acts the Cristianis performed as well as the lifestyle of the traveling production.   ...
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Madeline Hoak

Madeline Hoak is an artist and academic who creates with, through and about circus. She is an Associate Editor for CircusTalk, Adjunct Professor of Aerial Arts at Pace University, a member of the American Circus Alliance's EDI committee, and the Editor and Curatorial Director of TELEPHONE, an international arts game. Madeline has performed, coached, produced, and choreographed at elite regional and international venues. Her background in dance and physical theater are infiltrated into her coaching and creation style. She is passionate about providing her students holistic circus education that includes physical, historical, theoretical resources. Madeline initiated the Aerial Acrobatics program at her alma mater, Muhlenberg College, where she taught from 2012-2017. She is also a regular contributor to Cirkus Syd's Circus Thinkers international reading group. Her circus research has been supported by Pace, NYU, and Concordia University. Recent publications include "Teaching the Mind-Body: Integrating Knowledges through Circus Arts'' (with Alisan Funk, Dan Berkley), a chapter in Art as an Agent for Social Change, "expanding in(finite) between," a multimedia essay in Circus Thinkers: Reflections, 2020, and "Digital Dance & TELEPHONE: A Unique Spectator Experience." Madeline has presented academic papers at numerous conferences including Circus and it’s Others (UC Davis), the Popular Culture Association, Gallatin (NYU), and McGill University. Madeline earned an MA from Gallatin, New York University’s School of Independent Study, where she designed a Circus Studies curriculum with a focus on spectatorship. madelinehoak.com