100th anniversary of the russian circus, education of circus artists and design of a school of the future

This year, at the VIII Saint Petersburg International Cultural Forum, 'Circus and Street Theatre' Section decided to focus on education of the younger generation, the future of the circus art and the art of street theatre in general.

Professional conferences with participation of Russian and foreign artists, directors and teachers took place for three days. World-renowned clowns gave a series of workshops for future actors. The anniversary of the Russian state Circus was one of important events of the section.
'This year the Soviet circus turns 100 years. It's the circus that has always inspired our Homeland, the circus that has fascinated, inspired and made children and adults fall in love with it. Each of us will always remember names of cult-figures who used to reign on the arena, because circus comes to people's life when they are children, and the excitement of this meeting is unforgettable.

Over the last 100 years the art of circus has experienced periods of ups and downs, a true triumph and some dismay. Nowadays our circus might face not the easiest times, but it's still a place of great traditions. I'd like to believe that in the not so distant future our circus will be a place of great artistic experiments and innovations. In this sense, the youth is our white hope,' Vyacheslav Polunin, People’s Artist of the Russian Federation and Head of the Section, notes. 'That's why at this Forum we address the problem of education in field of circus art and street theatre. It's important for us to recognize both our own experience and experience of our foreign colleagues to make our school more modern, more efficient and more creative.

Our task, as we see it, requires an immediate solution, and the Cultural Forum is a perfect venue to comprehend such urgent issues.'
The first day was opened with the Conference 'Education of Actors and Directors of Circus and Street Theatre' held in the Corps de Garde of the Russian Museum. Experts and professionals from all across the world presented their reports based on their own experience. Thus, Fu Jien, Vice Chairman of the Union of Circus Arts of China (PRC) told about the modern Chinese circus and schools where future artists are trained. Isabelle Joly, Director of FEDEC, the European Federation for Professional Circus Schools, (Belgium), told how to improve the quality of education in circus schools. FEDEC, the European Federation for Professional Circus Schools, offers qualification upgrading courses for teachers, provides digital tools to be used in circus. Agnes Brun, teacher of the Frantellini Academy (France) told about the Academy as such, about its structure and capabilities.
'We have amateur workshops for children and adults who want to master the art of circus. There's a production center, because all our alumni create performances, and they need to be promoted. That's what producers do. Besides, the Academy often creates performances in cooperation with other organizations, and we provide support for our students so that they could also study in the production program as well. Hence, all we make is performances that are either staged in the Academy or presented in the Academy, or beyond,' Agnes Brun shared.
Many other directors and teachers from different countries of the world also told about their experience of pedagogical work.
The first day of the section was concluded in the Russian State Institute of Performing Arts with the workshop 'Live Energy — Foundation of Artistic Education' presented by Oleg Kiselev, actor, mime, director and teacher of the theatre class at the Montreal University (Canada). A unique method for development of body plastic expressiveness he invented is gaining more and more followers in different countries of the world. This universal technique gives an actor an opportunity to get rid of generally accepted scenic 'inhibitors', standards and cliché. As a result of such work actors become lighter, more expressive and feel free on the stage.
On the second day of the section two workshops took place: in the morning and in the evening. Brilliant clown, teacher and Director of the Nouveau Clown Institute Jango Edwards and his colleague Claudia Cantone (Spain) held workshops in clownage entitled 'On the Other Side of Laughter' for the future professional actors — currently students of the Russian State Institute of Performing Arts, as well as artists of the Upsala Circus and participants of the Laboratory under the Union of Theatre Workers led by Vyacheslav Polunin.
'The art of a clown is not just a profession, it's a style of life that needs to understand emotions, to have sensibility, passion and a heart. Essentially, a clown is a combination of naivete and maturity. Using various games, physical exercises, social and logical demonstrations, improvisations and performances, every student will find their own comic simplicity, naivete and logic that are the main components of the clown's formula,' Jango Edwards noted.
The Solemn Assembly dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Russian circus became one of key events of the section. The event was opened with a statement by Andrey Maksimkov, theatre and film actor and director and the moderator of the event: '100 years ago, on August 26, 1919, a Decree on the Unification of the Theatre Business was signed to legalize nationalization of the circus property. This day is considered a Birthday of the state circus, but it's the Decree of 1919 which is so important for the circus history. It was the year when People's Commissar Lunacharsky published the article, where he clearly outlined the main elements of the circus show. Let me quote: 'The first and foremost thing is demonstration of physical strength and agility, a physical beauty of the human organism. The second element of the circus is the comic one of the kind when it turns into farce, a caricature, buffoonery, because clownage is one of peaks of the comic genres. Finally, the third element of the comic circus show is pantomime and carnival. Let's preserve traditions of the circus excellence; let's support workers of the circus, people who are greatly committed to the business of intense self-improvement; let's allow the circus keeping its great tasks of showing strength, agility, courage, of provoking laugh and excitement with a brilliant, bright and exaggerated performance.' I think, it's all clear, coherent and transparent.'
Anatoly Marchevsky, People's Artist of Russia, Director of the Yekaterinburg Circus and a famous clown, delivered his speech. He congratulated all the present with the anniversary of the circus and then offered to watch a short film about the history of the Russian circus.
'I think, the circus is very important nowadays both in our country and all across the world, because it carries a positive drive, it carries confidence in the future. Circus has always been and will always be contemporary art. In the circus artists get their fame, when they are on the arena only. Then they leave it to be forgotten. It's the most sincere, the most honest art. You can't lip-sync when throwing a somersault; you can't face virtual tigers. And every day you make about five somersaults with a risk to your life. What for? To please the audience, to entertain them, to make them confident that a human being can do anything, the main thing is to want. A person is created to win, to protect. And today I shall say this much for animals: animals in circus are like children in everything but blood for us. We care about them more than about ourselves sometimes. Our country has its traditions, and we will protect and develop these traditions,' Anatoly Marchevsky said.
Veterans of the circus also visited the Solemn Assembly: Vladimir Shilinsky-Lerry, Konstantin Kanashkin and Alexander Brusnikin. A key event of the Section 'Circus and Street Theatre' couldn't be without a circus performance. The Solemn Assembly was graced with Yulia Popova, a balance mistress who performed on a mirror ball. Undoubtedly, speakers discussed business issues as well. Thus, Director of the Belarusian Circus Vladimir Shaban didn't just tell about friendly relations of Russian and Belarusian circuses, but also mentioned that after the Assembly the Cooperation Agreement would be signed by the Russian Circus Company and the Belarusian State Circus.
'Our circus has amazing traditions and amazing people. But we lack directors, new ideas, we lack renewal. Our circus needs as much fantasy, craziness, new deeds, search of the strangest things as possible. We need to open small windows, throw doors open to let as much fresh air in as possible. We need to give the youth a dream. And what is a dream? It's about something new, unknown, and looking for it,' Vyacheslav Polunin noted.
The Conference 'Education of Actors and Directors of Circus and Street Theatre' continued on the second day with the topic 'Training a Clown. Training a Street Theatre Artist'. On the Conference Vyacheslav Polunin told the audience about ways to train the future clowns he had been practicing till the present day; other speakers included Sue Morrison, a clown and teacher from Canada; Natalya Tabachnikova, moderator and curator of the Section, theatre critic; Horacio Czertok, Director, teacher, actor and founder of Nucleo Theatre (Italy). Jango Edwards, Founder and Director of the Nouveau Clown Institute (Spain), shared his ideas about the nature of a clown, reflections on the school and his understanding of clownage as a phenomenon in the world with the audience.
'In fact, any clown is already the best. Because people are born to be clowns, they don't become them. A clown is not someone with a funny wig and a big nose; being a clown is about you, about life. Yes, each of us has our own religion, country, but at the same time, when we speak about a clown, it's just a person who was born a clown. If you were born a clown you are a free person.
...There are people from all across the world who come to our Institute. We work with various clowns, various professionals, so the school turns out to be international. We teach those who will teach others in the future. I came here to share this information. My generation, my friends got to like clownage, they chose clownage. If you are clowns, you are equal. Sure, everyone works in a different way.
...You need to find your own clown, for yourself, a clown inside you... it's a search for freedom,' Jango Edwards said.
On the last day of the section a Roundtable Discussion 'Training Professional Artists in Amateur Studios' took place. The discussion of education, training and specificity of teaching was attended by Larisa Afanasyeva, Artistic Administrator and Director of the Upsala Circus; Marina Landa, Artistic Director of the Rainbow Children's Musical Theatre (Russia); director and teacher Oleg Kiselev (Canada).
As speakers noted, a lot of various studios are opened nowadays: circus, musical and theatre ones. Not every studio has its certain goal and mission though. However, it's a so-called super-objective that the entire educational process depends on.
'Homo sapiens, these ambitious animals, often consider themselves demigods, people who already know everything about this life. But I think, there's always a chance to learn,' Larisa Afanasyeva noted. 'The system of education has come into conflict with reality. Since the first of September I have been watching children go to school: they don't go happily, they are not running there. And many children, though not all, say: 'We have to endure. To endure for 10 years.' Actually, that's a tragic, an awful thing. Because now children are taught how to endure learning. Though in fact, learning might be the most interesting process in life. Another thing is what we, adults, turn this process into? How do we build this process?'
During the discussion speakers analyzed the current situation not regarding the art of circus in general, but regarding clownage in particular.
'Everything associated with clownage, circus is shrouded in mystery, because these professions contain a great number of secrets. There are not just secrets, but some attitude to life which certainly doesn't match one of normal people. Thus far, a circus profession, a profession of clownage hasn't been researched, dare I say it, from the scientific point of view. By science I mean the analysis, the approach to this phenomenon from the psychological point of view, a psychological path that could explain why clowns appeared at all. Clownage and circus can be called an area of critical existence. It's an area that accepts those who must be born for that and ready for this activity. Therefore, training of clowns, training of circus artists take on a form of the process that least of all makes me one think 'why am I doing this, and what is it for?'' Oleg Kiselev said.
Participants of the conference noted that issues of education and the future of the circus were extremely urgent and important nowadays, and professional meetings and experience exchange helped develop such a unique kind of art.