Bodies, Temporality and Spatiality in Australian Contemporary Circus
Embargoed until: 2019-06-04
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Informed and impelled by my professional experience as a circus artist, this dissertation maps the practice features and cultural influence of contemporary circus in Australia, investigating its development and situating it in relation to alternative circus practice internationally. I undertake a conceptual discussion of the development of Australian contemporary circus and of its current features. This involves the discussion of the milieu it created and continues to create for itself, the “middle…from which it grows and which it overspills” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987); its many lines of flight as sub-genres, styles, companies, training and sustainability; and its ability to renew and extend itself through continual processes of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. I explore the growth of the artform; its artistic processes; how spatiality has shaped contemporary circus, including the part played by certain 'circus cities' in industry development, and the relationships between performance venues and artistic processes; the national profile of contemporary circus and its major contribution to Australia’s international performing arts output. Simultaneously, I consider the performance of the contemporary circus body in space and time. I am interested in the diversity, multiplicities and “creative chaos” deployed by independent artists and major companies in the production of work, along with the nature and significance of embodiment, risk and trust in performance. This involves, for example, the influence of Chinese classical circus techniques in the training of Australian circus artists, as well as the impacts of feminist and queer ideologies and bodies on the practices of circus and the aesthetics of performance. Methodologically, the thesis is grounded in approaches and opportunities consequent upon the lived experience of an insider researcher who has participated in the industry as an aerial performer, artistic director, company manager, trainer and colleague. The case studies of key companies, practices and sites of practice are therefore based in interviews with a cross-section of practitioners and other industry personnel who recognised the value of the research. Similarly, the project has been enriched by an insider’s access to scarce but invaluable archival material as well as publicly accessible media reviews. Conceptually, I draw extensively on Deleuze and Guattari for ways of thinking processually about movement, rhythms, transformations, connectivity and potentiality in the artform, in relation to the bodies of performers, the spaces in which they perform and the contexts that they inhabit in terms of company structures, relations with Australian governments and other artforms, and in extensive international work. In addition to a range of scholars who have worked with and through Deleuze and Guattari in various ways, I make use of key insights from Foucault, Agamben, Butler, Grosz and Probyn. Utilising ideas and approaches that are allied, or at least aligned, in their modes of working with differences and complex relations, has helped me to fashion a discussion that I believe achieves coherence, given the large but potentially unwieldy array of primary and secondary material that informs it. This discussion is also facilitated throughout by a number of core observations regarding movements and interactions of bodies in spaces, for which I found particularly valuable perspectives in works by Peta Tait, Doreen Massey and Erin Manning. Taken together, these various conceptual strands and the ways of thinking that they model have enabled me to analyse how the success of Australian contemporary circus can be found in its ideological edginess, its emphatic physicality and extreme uses of the body, its challenges to “normal” notions of physical and spatial boundedness, and its particular ways of mixing chaotic and orderly processes which produce a sense of “authenticity in performance” for audiences. While aspects of the artform have been discussed in scholarly work (e.g. Tait, 2005) this is the first comprehensive study of Australian contemporary circus, its national development, and its international influence as a leader in innovation. As well as suggesting some approaches to understanding and conceptualising the extraordinary appeal of the sector for its participants and its audiences, I grapple with why it continues to be largely unrecognised in Australian national and state funding processes. I suggest that more serious conceptual discussion of the sector in scholarly and industry contexts might contribute to it being taken seriously in its home country, as it is internationally.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Hum, Lang & Soc Sc
The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.
Australian contemporary circus