Circus News

FUORI ASSE Project: Milan and the Culture of Contemporary Circus That Does (Not) Exist

In the last few years Italy’s capital of fashion and design is expanding its horizons. Being Italy’s second biggest city and capital of theatre, Milan is well known for its cultural vivacity and open-mindedness. Yet, which role does contemporary circus play in the in the city of La Scala, Salone del Mobile and Da Vinci’s Last Supper?

Acrobat on an aerial device at an outdoor show in ItalyThis is the question that a group of young circus professionals have been asking since they founded  Quattrox4 (four by four), a contemporary circus centre based in Milan. Born in 2011 from the idea of Marco Dellabianca, Clara Storti, Filippo Malerba, and Elisa Angioni, Quattrox4’s mission is “to promote contemporary circus both as a physical activity and as a cultural practice in Milan, thus contributing to enriching and developing the whole panorama of performing arts in Italy”.

Over the years, Quattrox4 has become a specialized and multi-functional 450 mq centre entirely dedicated to contemporary circus. The board of directors is made of a team of five people under the age of 35 working full-time with a very strict focus: promoting contemporary circus in all its possible forms (production, organization, practice, and programming). After seven years of intense activities, in 2017 Quattrox4 has opened the doors of its brand new fully-equipped space to the local population and has invited 230 kids and 150 adults to attend courses on a weekly basis. An equally important development was the launching ofFUORI ASSE – contemporary circus in Milan, a yearly season of contemporary circus shows organized in cooperation with theatres of Milan. In a country where contemporary circus is still on its way towards recognition as a mature art form and public funding is far from reaching European standards, it will be interesting to see over the next few years ifQuattrox4 will be creating a new cultural model for Italy’s performing arts panorama. 

While in most of Europe, contemporary circus finds itself internationally in a continuous state of creative innovation, in contrast, in Italy contemporary circus is perceived to be on the fringes of society and it is often seen as a low level of entertainment.

Launched in 2017 thanks to the precious help of Fondazione Cariplo, the season of FUORI ASSE aims at establishing a strong connection between contemporary circus companies and theatres in Milan by enhancing co-producting and co-programming. Its main purpose is to promote the authorship of the circus artist (by offering directing workshops and by programming shows which are the result of years of personal research), to develop new theatre audiences (through special discounts for people and families practicing circus at Quattrox4) and to engage the spectators as active subjects (by asking them to give critical feedback to the companies at the end of residency programs at Quattrox4), thus promoting contemporary circus as a mature and independent art form.

Man on stage picking up juggling ballsThanks to a hybrid model where theatre and circus establish a dialogue through the mediation of Quattrox4 staff, so far the season FUORI ASSE has managed to put on a theatre stage shows, which just a few years ago seemed inconceivable in Italy. People in Milan have had the chance to watch circus manifestos likeRespire by Cie Circoncentrique, crowded open-air shows like Obstinees by La Burrasca, and Dirty Laundry directed by Firenza Guidi from No Fit State Circus.Also, they’ve seen delicate and hilarious work-in-progress shows like Bakeke by Fabrizio Rosselli, co-productions like  Dall’Altoinspired by Samuel Beckett and now bound to tour Romaeuropa Festival, site-specific creations for theatres like Dittico Di Circo Contemporaneo with the Israeli duos Amir and Hemda and Lazuz, the cosmopolite juggler trio Piti Peta Hofen Show, the Brasilian acrobatic companyCirco No Ato, and the promising male Cyr wheel duo André Leo

As the Berlin Circus Festival Manifesto states, Quattrox4 strongly believes that “contemporary circus makes culture easily accessible through its strong physical and visual language, and it speaks to an intercultural and an intergenerational audience. Its emotional power enables a low-threshold access to participation in culture and cultural education. Especially in the current political and social context, the field of contemporary circus promotes international cooperation and intercultural networking for its production as well as its reception.”

While in most of Europe, contemporary circus finds itself internationally in a continuous state of creative innovation, in contrast, in Italy contemporary circus is perceived to be on the fringes of society and it is often seen as a low level of entertainment. Knowing that it has acquired only a small area of cultural awareness, this is the perception FUORI ASSE means to counteract with its initiative.

Under the patronage of the Mayor of Milan, in SeptemberQuattrox4 is launching the 3rd edition of the season and the spectrum of partners is growing:Teatro del Buratto,Teatro Gerolamo,Milano Musica,Triennale Teatro dell’Arte,BASE Milano,Spazio YAK Karakorum.

The success obtained so far is the consequences of a series of positively concocting factors and some points of strength:

1. Community

Throughout the years, Quattrox4 has been building a strong community of passionate circus lovers that do not miss a single occasion to see on stage what they practice as a sport in their free time. Quattrox4 strongly believes in the power of human relationships and in the immense potential that contemporary circus has in getting people together. It was a great discovery to notice thatpractisingandviewing ofcircus are different sides of the same coin. This combo has a great potential in terms of audience development and audience engagement.

2. Inclusion and Economic Accessibility

Being primarily a non-verbal art, contemporary circus has an intergenerational, intercultural and expressive strength that can adapt to a wide range of audiences: kids, parents or grandparents will find their own way to enjoy a show. Therefore Quattrox4 negotiates lower prices for its spectators to allow the highest number of people to come and make a theatre experience through circus. Contemporary circus shows are generally short and quite intense, which has a strong appeal to people of different ages and cultural backgrounds.

A stage with audience listening to two speakers  3. Yearly Season Rather Than a Festival

The main purpose of FUORI ASSE is not to create an intensive festival but on the contrary a yearly season in theatres in order to create the “habit” of consuming culture among  spectators, rather that promoting circus as a one-day escape from reality.

 4. Networking & Co-Productions 

Quattrox4 does not only ask for suggestions or share ideas with circus people… in these dark times of low budgets, co-producing and co-programming with other artistic organizations in Milan can be a really good way to maximize the impact of the project, in terms of both communication and also of audience development. For example, the show Dall’Alto was the result of  a co-production with Milano Musica (contemporary music festival), Quattrox4 (contemporary circus centre) and Teatro del Buratto (theatre in Milan well-known for working with children audiences.) This surprisingly good alchemy is unexpectedly bringing Dall’Alto to the stage of Roma Europa Festival in November 2019, one of the most important festivals of performing arts in Italy and Europe. 

 5. Artistic Homecoming

Through FUORI ASSE, Quattrox4 wants to bring back to Italy circus artists who had left to look for better work conditions. With inspiration from French, Belgian and Swedish cultural policies, FUORI ASSE wants to enhance a sort of “migration of return” of those artists that Italy seems to have lost and aims at bringing them back to Italy with their European skills and background. We want to keep our work to the European standards, but at the same time we feel the urgency to give Italian artists the opportunity for an artistic “homecoming”.

 6. Contemporary Circus Hub

Having a contemporary circus hub based in Milan (which is also starting to become a centre for residency programs) allows Quattrox4 to think and differentiate strategies of audience development and engagement through experimental cultural models . 

Circus artist on rope 7. Conferences and Meetings

From Milan to Concordia University, from Subtopia to Avignon, the staff behind FUORI ASSE keeps up to date on the latest trends and theory studies. Quattrox4 tries to replicate in context the cultural practices learnt abroad and organizes after-show meetings and conferences with spectators, critics and protagonists. 

 8. Hard Work, Hard Work, Hard Work

It is the main rule for cultural management!

Far from claiming that it is an easy job, Milan seems to be a city capable of seeing the big picture and to accept the challenge that Quattrox4 is posing with contemporary circus. A lot has been achieved so far and much of this success was unexpected. There is a lot to be done but one sure thing to be taken for granted: the best is yet to come.

The artists using the Cyr wheel at the end of the video are Duo André Leo (mentioned above.)

 All photos courtesy of Quattrox4. Photo credit: Alessandro Villa.
Gaia Vimercati
Academic, Cultural Project Manager -Italy
Gaia Vimercati (1990) got a MA Degree in Comparative Literature at Trinity College Dublin and a BA degree in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Milan. She works as a cultural project manager for Quattrox4, a circus organization based in Milan which promotes contemporary circus through its practice (courses, seminars, residency programs) and its vision (shows, work-in-progress presentations).
Together with Filippo Malerba, she created CENSIMENTO CIRCO ITALIA (2015), the first map of circus companies in Italy. Since 2017 she is the curator of FUORI ASSE- circo contemporaneo a Milano, a showcase of contemporary circus shows organized in cooperation with theaters in Milan. Her main research topics revolve around the relations between contemporary circus and dramaturgy. She was among the contributors of Semiotics of the Circus (2015) and in 2018 she attended the project Research Creation Methods in contemporary circus at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada).

Gaia Vimercati

Gaia Vimercati (1990) got a MA Degree in Comparative Literature at Trinity College Dublin and a BA degree in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Milan. She works as a cultural project manager for Quattrox4, a circus organization based in Milan which promotes contemporary circus through its practice (courses, seminars, residency programs) and its vision (shows, work-in-progress presentations). Together with Filippo Malerba, she created CENSIMENTO CIRCO ITALIA (2015), the first map of circus companies in Italy. Since 2017 she is the curator of FUORI ASSE- circo contemporaneo a Milano, a showcase of contemporary circus shows organized in cooperation with theaters in Milan. Her main research topics revolve around the relations between contemporary circus and dramaturgy. She was among the contributors of Semiotics of the Circus (2015) and in 2018 she attended the project Research Creation Methods in contemporary circus at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada).

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