Visual Encyclopedia

Circus

A circus is a company of performers who put on diverse entertainment shows that include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, dancers, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, magicians, unicyclists, as well as other object manipulation and stunt-oriented artists. The term 'circus' also describes the performance which has followed various formats through its 250-year modern history. Philip Astley is credited with being the 'father' of the modern circus when he opened the first circus in 1768 in England. A skilled equestrian, Astley demonstrated trick riding, riding in a circle rather than a straight line as his rivals did, and thus chanced on the format which was later named a 'circus'. In 1770 he hired acrobats, tightrope walkers, jugglers and a clown to fill in the pauses between acts. Performances developed significantly through the next fifty years, with large-scale theatrical battle reenactments becoming a significant feature. The 'traditional' format, whereby a ringmaster introduces a varied selection of acts that mostly perform choreographed acts to traditional music, developed in the latter part of the 19th century and continued almost universally to be the main style of circus up until the 1970s.

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Circus is a unique discipline that combines artistic ability along with awareness to create a unique structure that flows seamlessly to music that leaves audiences breathless.

Contributed by Nick Slimick

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