Circus in Taiwan with the Weiwuying Circus Platform: Circus on Film- Part 1 - StageLync
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Circus in Taiwan with the Weiwuying Circus Platform: Circus on Film- Part 1

In participating in the Weiwuying Circus Platform this November 2021, my suspicions were verified: Taiwan has a healthy and burgeoning circus culture with artists who are keen to explore contemporary themes, and who are known for their creativity. Currently in its 6th year, the event took place from October 30th to November 28, 2021, and included all of the key players in the circus field in Taiwan and even some from beyond.Curated by Gwen Hsin-Yi Chang, the project was also a collaboration with Circus Asia Network (CAN) and Montréal Complètement Cirque in Canada. 
Gwen Hsin-Yi CHANG 張欣怡 Dance & Circus programming, producing and creative projects Curator of 2021 Weiwuying Circus Platform
The Platform

The program, withthe curatorial theme of “Circus – Life,”featured two live circus shows, three online circus workshops, four physical performances billed as circus marathons, four circus insider lectures online, and a 7-day open studio, Cloud-based training held by the Department of Acrobatics of the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts. There was also a 40-hour digital residency program for circus artists, incorporating the disciplines of dance, circus, and stunt creation; a short film festival; and a photo exhibition. 

In part one of our coverage, I will explore the digital films contributed by Taiwanese artists, and in part two I will cover the street art submissions of acts that have been brought to the digital realm.

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Entering The Digital Realm

This year’s theme featured more than 100 circus performers and video artists across Taiwan (and beyond) and asked them to make work that represented their response to the social conditions of the pandemic. What did their work tell the world about artistic creations in Taiwan at the moment? First, that they are innovative– often choosing unique mediums to convey their message and engage their audiences. Second, that the artists are eager to see the art form of circus embraced by their homelands, excited to share their perspective with the world and understand the unique properties circus has to convey the complexities of modern life.

After viewing many of the digital programs in the Platform (reviews below), it is clear to me that the Taiwanese circus field has experienced growth in response to the historic events of the pandemic, and that creators have found interesting ways to encourage interactivity and audience engagement via technology. One notable and interesting distinction between Western contemporary circus and circus in Taiwan is their cultural proclivity towards adding a moral to the story, or narration that thoroughly defines and explains the metaphors and symbolism in the circus. 

What is Circus Life Like in Taiwan? 

A short, 12-minute documentary, TheCircus Lifesets the stage for the entire event by exploring the range of circus happening in Taiwan right now, featuring companies that perform folk arts, street circus, and contemporary circus.

Watching the documentary, one gets a sense of the challenges and joys of championing an emerging art form in Taiwan during a difficult time for the arts. It shows us Formosa Circus Arts questioning their persistence in doing shows at a loss during the pandemic because they fear losing the heart of circus by going from live to fully digital. It shows all the excitement of planning a new piece with Eye Catching Circus, who snags a three-year residency and then takes out a loan to pay their performers, many of whom are working as circus teachers or in service industry jobs while they pursue their circus dreams. The struggle is real, but exciting, and the Taiwanese circus scene will take you with them on their journey.

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Circus Now: An Experiment

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Directors: Sin-da Chen, Han-CHung Hsu and Shih-An Chen

In this moving experiment directed by Sin-da Chen, Han-CHung Hsu and Shih-An Chen, a veritable cabaret is held in an empty warehouse between two weary workers. They begin by stealing a moment to themselves to perform in the solo spotlight– eventually joining forces to become a duo– and cycling through the circus arts while doing so. An interesting aspect of this digital experience is that it is an interactive 360 recording in which you, the user, must stay active in order to locate the action. As you stalk around with your camera’s eye, you will escape the darkness and find the light… a light, of course, that comes from juggling, hoops, dance, rola bola and hand balancing, as well as duo acrobatics and duo silks.All the while, a narrator speculates on the meaning and history of circus, encouraging us to watch and just listen.

There is something almost verging on horror about the setting– a creepy abandoned space that houses equipment to make shows happen. The unease is augmented by the soundscape; a metronome frequently keeps time, and the disturbing beep of a truck backing up jostles us to attention. The couple argues in the dimly lit space– isolated in their union, like so many of us who were lucky enough to have partners during the pandemic still were. In one moving scene that mimics a ghost hunt, the narrator goes on a search in the dark for the duo, shining his spotlight about. Every time he catches them, they freeze, changing to new positions like playing the childhood game of freeze tag.

“We are still very young on this road. Move on to the next stage,” the narrator finally declares, speaking of contemporary circus in his country, and the young couple finds themselves unceremoniously packed into a truck bed and sent off on the road ahead, looking forward.


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Imaginary tragedy — No sacrifice, no victory

In this film by Yen-cheng Liu (x Dua Shin Te Production), they are happy to share their movement philosophy. It seems simple on the surface: “No one is without a body… and with a body comes movement. Everything involves the body.” As a digital experience, the creators aimed to involve the audiences’ bodies as well, creatinga website where interacting with their performance through different digital devices will access different experiences, from text shapes to aerial perspectives. 

It is a dark, avant-garde piece, where three schoolgirls cycle through what it means to be human–or even an animal– in these times. Using veiled political commentary juxtaposed with interpretive dance and subtle acrobatics, the three artists play with small fireworks, balloons, apples, and each other, gradually mimicking the ills of society through child’s play in an echo of Lord of The Flies or Squid Games. Corpses around them pile up and reanimate, but whether they are zombies or victims of war crimes or environmental destruction is unclear. In the end, they do a surrender dance with white flags to the sound of warplanes.The narration takes this opportunity to talk more directly about tragedies: how they unfold while the more privileged are often exempt from them, and hence remain passive about them. It asks rhetorical questions in an attempt to define what a tragedy is. The whole show maintains a contemporary stance that indicates how posing such questions is an important step in answering them.

Disappearing Island 

The film by Formosa begins with audio recordings of the hearings about the zone demolition and subsequent resettlement projects scheduled for Shezi Island, a small island in the heart of Taipei. Overlaid with the sound are images of Shezi Island occupied by circus artists, who have embedded themselves in the natural habitats and abandoned places on the streets as if they were a rare species in need of protection. Walking like birds around the water, mixing parkour and reed-like implements, they are not so far from the nature they emulate. There is silence and bird song, and just across the water are yellow construction vehicles ready to demolish and rebuild in the name of progress.

Throughout this piece, the circus performers move about in a state of radical play, creating guerilla art, reclaiming the spaces for the people in a symbolic gesture that reveals something precious about the value of the space. Meanwhile, men in white hazmat suits (clearly a plant) disinfect and sterilize the zone they have just occupied. There are examples of acrobatics, stilt walking and juggling, all inhabiting a place that longs to be only itself and not an overbuilt urban area. 

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Awakening by Action

In this bleak but beautiful film directed by Lee Hsiao Lei, it’s as if the classical worlds of ballet and opera meld with circus and a zombie apocalypse. In starkly lit black and white tableaus set to Schubert’sWinterreise, scenes unfold between despairing duos and trios who find connection through grief and loss. Through acrobalancing, hat juggling, cube, group acrodance, and other disciplines, the show builds up a subtle balance of introspection and tenderness, especially in the acrodance scene between two male dancers as they employ counterbalance and balletic motions in a beautiful rhythm. But the final scene is the one that astounds, as a horde moves slowly through a graveyard, mourning and moving corpses. This “carrying” morphs from horrific to elegant and back as performers create two-highs and three-highs blending feats with classic dance. Combined with the silent screams and angst-ridden twitching of the performers, this place creates a dual universe of pain and hope, and the operatic bellowing becomes the perfect soundscape for this expression.

Being part of this effort has provided so much insight into the world of contemporary circus in Taiwan. With their continued dedication to the art form, theWeiwuying Circus Platform and its collaborators are in a good position to make this mission thrive and bring their art to the world.AsGwen Hsin-Yi CHANG, the 2021 Platform curator herself, says,Circus lets us take part in a social action of change. When the applause rings, we once again have the courage to believe in life and hope!”

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Trailer for 2021 Weiwuying Circus Platform:

Part of the Weiwuying Circus Platform 2021 programming is still available on the Weiwuying Art Center's YouTube channel.
Main Image: Imaginary tragedy — No sacrifice, no victory @Dua shin te Production
Kim Campbell
Writer -USA
Kim Campbell has written about circus for CircusTalk.News, Spectacle magazine, Circus Now, Circus Promoters and was a resident for Circus Stories, Le Cirque Vu Par with En Piste in 2015 at the Montreal Completement Cirque Festival. They are the former editor of CircusTalk.News, American Circus Educators magazine, as well as a staff writer for the web publication Third Coast Review, where they write about circus, theatre, arts and culture. Kim is a member of the American Theater Critics Association.

Editor's Note: At StageLync, an international platform for the performing arts, we celebrate the diversity of our writers' backgrounds. We recognize and support their choice to use either American or British English in their articles, respecting their individual preferences and origins. This policy allows us to embrace a wide range of linguistic expressions, enriching our content and reflecting the global nature of our community.

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Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell has written about circus for CircusTalk.News, Spectacle magazine, Circus Now, Circus Promoters and was a resident for Circus Stories, Le Cirque Vu Par with En Piste in 2015 at the Montreal Completement Cirque Festival. They are the former editor of CircusTalk.News, American Circus Educators magazine, as well as a staff writer for the web publication Third Coast Review, where they write about circus, theatre, arts and culture. Kim is a member of the American Theater Critics Association.