In 2015 Cirkus Cirkör turned 20 years. We used this year of celebration to boost our 20 years of transcending boundaries in the arts and in society – physical boundaries between nationalities as well as the crossover of genres and art forms. All a part of one of Cirkus Cirkör’s vision – changing the world through contemporary circus.
But we had to ask ourselves how we could celebrate when Europe protected its physical borders more vigilantly than ever before and when more than 50 million people were fleeing from war, famine and oppression.
In the West, we are preoccupied with challenging each other to step out of our comfort zones. At the same time, we protect our European borders more vigilantly than ever before. The hustle and bustle of our everyday life plays out against the background noise of reports about refugees in overflowing boats, in pursuit of freedom and security.
Contemporary circus is an art form that moves without borders between continents with different nationalities. It also works seamlessly between different genres, art forms and means of expression, without conventions. The circus is stage performance, but can also be the carrier of the most painful stories.
View the full performance here.
"The political message is clear, and Cirkus Cirkör does not hesitate to expose the powers that be."
"... a peculiar fireworks-display of strong stage poetry about human vulnerability in search of a better life "
An embrace full of joy mixed with a couple of fistfuls of indignation and voila, a new genre is born: contemporary circus activism.
Press quotes about Borders
A little more than a year ago, when Malmö Stadsteater asked us if we would consider celebrating Cirkus Cirkör's 20th anniversary on Hipp's remodeled 360° stage, our hearts answered ”yes” without missing a beat. Imagine performing at one of Sweden's only true circus venues?! But when we got home, our minds started churning. This idea actually didn't fit into our chockfull schedule. We were already deep into the research for our next show, about the tragedy unfolding along Europe's borders and The Mediterranean. Could this topic really mesh with a celebration?
In the 1930s Bertold Brecht wrote:
”What kind of times are they, when/To talk about trees is almost a crime/Because it implies silence about so many horrors?”
How could we possibly celebrate Cirkör in the shadow of thousands of deaths?
And then it dawned on us just how we had to do it.
Cirkus Cirkör's first 20 years have been a single big and tireless exploration of crossing boundaries in various ways. To begin with, by doing things without knowing just how, of wanting more than one knows, of going where no one else has gone and always without the resources required. And later, by investigating how to handle the chaos that arises when one takes risks and defies boundaries. As aides and accomplices in this endeavor we have enlisted everyone from brain scientists to researchers in economics and philosophy, circus artists and circus companies from all over the world, and not the least, our co-workers and partners.
We have no intention of celebrating by dusting off old acts and parading our successes. Instead, we plan to celebrate Cirkör's 20 years as boundary crossers! At the same time, we are going to take this opportunity to pay tribute to contemporary circus pioneers such as Archaos, Circus OZ, Peter Brook (only a few mentioned by name, but none forgotten), who pushed the envelope with their performances and made us understand that there was a young art form called Cirque Nouveau. With their art they showed us and the world what stepping over boundaries can mean and be! They inspired us to believe anything is possible. They gave us the courage to stop merely dreaming and instead to dare to throw ourselves into the kamikaze mission of changing the world through contemporary circus, and to place Sweden squarely on the world map of this new art form.
Everything that we have done since – performances, educational activities, transboundary collaborations between municipalities, institutions, researchers and businesses –– has at bottom been about spreading our inspiration to others (even if on the face of it, this is perhaps not always obvious).
”When someone breaks new ground, for a while there may be no order at all, but out of it will certainly come a better world order,” wrote the journalist Lina Thomsgård
Crossing boundaries is difficult. Here, at home in Sweden, we are not forced to flee over national borders to survive. But it is here at home that we set the limits for what we believe we can afford and are capable of dealing with. We must work hard, fast and intensively to learn how to handle the disorder that can arise when we open Europe's borders. Circus artists choose to put themselves at risk when they execute something that seems physically impossible. But a person fleeing from war has no choice. When we open Europe's borders, we need to practice daring to be as open and boundary-defying as possible, because we must open Europe's borders to more refugees or future generations will judge us harshly.
And, yes, we are going to celebrate! Celebrate that human beings are capable of so much more than we think. But we must not be silent! The researcher Liz Fekete, who is working on a documentary about structural violence within Europe's migration and asylum system, penned a piece entitled ”European Indifference”. In it she writes:
” What we face today is the challenge of non-listening, non-seeing, non-feeling. The Pope, in his open-air mass at Lampedusa, held against the backdrop of the hulks of shipwrecked migrant boats, described this as ‘the globalisation of indifference’. To be seen and heard we need a new vocabulary, a syntax to shock people out of complacency. We need to search for new allies – perhaps film-makers, performance artists, dramatists, visual artists who can take our raw material, and amplify our data so that the truth of our appalling treatment of refugees and migrants becomes a ‘revelation that must be heard’. Because art has the power to strip back, to mine down deep below the surface of things, or to concentrate through abstraction, it can challenge structural violence and societal indifference. For ‘Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”
Her words go straight to our hearts: ”… a revelation that must be heard”. This can be brought to life in many ways, and perhaps you already have plans to do so. If so, can we find a way to collaborate, is there something we can work on together or ways in which we can complement one another?
One possibility lies in our intention of taking BORDERS on tour, and in March 2016 the tour version will be ready. In connection with this tour, we want to create activities – a sort of appeal – based on, and that strengthens, the idea of ”a revelation that must be heard”. But there may well also be other possibilities, other activities and educational pursuits. Or perhaps you have an altogether different idea?
Simon Rodriques Strömberg,
Concept, story and direction: Tilde Björfors
Composer, musician and sound design: Samuel “LoopTok” Andersson
Singer, musician, choir leader: Maja Långbacka
Choreographer: Olle Strandberg
Set design: Fanny Senocq
Costume design: Jonna Bergelin
Script writer: Kajsa Bohlin
Lighting design: Daniel Kullman
Video scenography/projections: Johannes Ferm Winkler / Per Rydnert / Tom Waldton
Make-up design: Åsa Trulsson
Choreographer support: Ilona Jäntti
Dramatic advisor: Anna Kölén
Researcher: Pinja Lehtonen
Producer – Malmö Stadsteater: Jerker Pyron
Producer – Cirkus Cirkör: Sara de Vylder
Technical producer – Cirkus Cirkör: Stefan Karlström
Assistant director: Maria Wallin
Stage manager: Kattis Blanking