The National Centre for Circus Arts
Today (11/3/14) the culture minister, Ed Vaisey, announced that the Circus Space will now be known as The National Centre for Circus Arts. The change is more than just a new name. It represents official recognition and validation of circus as a legitimate art form with the same status as theatre, dance and music.
Last year we reported on the social status of circus in different countries. While it seemed like we had slightly more respect for the circus in the UK than across the pond in the States, we were still a long way off countries like France where circus is “normal” and almost every large city has a circus school.
This rebranding to The National Centre for Circus Arts (NCCA) and recognition from the government can only help to improve the public's regard for circus.
Attitudes to Circus
Another concern of NCCA and British circus artists in general has been the lack of circus work in the UK. While 93% of NCCA’s graduates are working in circus three years after graduation, some for the most famous companies in the world, many find themselves in Europe, Canada, China or Russia. NCCA and others have been campaigning hard to change this and, while it’s too early to have the statistics to support this, the feeling is we’re on the right track.
Part of this shift in attitudes is also down to the hard work of new circus companies, youth circuses and the rise of aerial acrobatics as a fitness activity.
British companies like NoFitState and the Invisible Circus have produced and performed the sell-out shows Bianco and The Happiness Machine, respectively, in the last 12 months. Both shows combined skills from traditional circus with the level of narrative more usually found in the theatre. The Roundhouse in London is about to embark on a Circus Fest which will feature home-grown (including NCCA graduates) and international talent. And international circuses such as Cirque du Soleil and Fuerzabruta are selling out huge UK venues.
The Five Ring Circus, The Commonwealth Youth Circus and The Circus Project are, or include, thriving youth circuses that are engaging and training children, teenagers and young adults across the country. And, speaking from personal experience, I can testify to how much children love watching and participating in circus skills.
Aerial circus classes like those offered by The Circus Project, BandBazi, The Cambridge Community Circus, The Island in Bristol and Northern Pole Dance are bringing circus to a more adult audience. Appealing to a similar demographic as Pilates, aerobics and Zumba, aerial acrobatics is fast becoming one of the hippest and most fun ways to stay fit, increase strength and improve flexibility.
Circomedia Offer BA (Hons) in Circus
In reporting on Circus Space’s name change the national press invariably point out that NCCA is the only place you can get a degree in circus in the UK. Technically, they are still correct but not for long. Circomedia, a centre for contemporary circus and physical theatre in Bristol, has just announced that, from September 2014, it will be offering a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance, accredited by Bath Spa University.
The degree will take the form of a top up year for those who have completed the two-year foundation degree at Circomedia. However, the course will be open to those with equivalent qualifications from other institutions.
The news comes in the wake of Circomedia receiving their highest number of applications at the start of this academic year and the demand for accredited and recognised circus qualifications increasing.
Some commentators on the NCCA news have criticised the London-centric nature of the news. The introduction of a circus degree in Bristol goes some way to dismiss those voices, though regional circus would still benefit enormously from increased funding, facilities and recognition.
Both Circomedia and NCCA offer physical training in specialised and more general circus arts as well as business and career development so graduates are equipped with all the skills they need to forge a career in this small but growing industry.
What the Future Holds
The coinciding of this encouraging news from both the UK’s leading circus schools bodes well for the future of circus in this country. We are still a long way off achieving the status circus has on the continent but changes in social attitudes aren’t made overnight.
With children and young adults doing more circus, aerial acrobatics classes spreading across the country, circus companies selling more tickets, a “national” centre for the circus arts and, as of the next academic year, two places to gain a degree in circus the future looks bright for British Circus.
Check out this interview with two of The National Centre for Circus Art's students, including Luke Hallgarten, who's been known to man the Firetoys stall:
Chani's photo was taken by Andy Robinson of J&A Cameras.