It’s mid-summer and time for circus. Yesterday, we went to Circus Smirkus, a touring youth circus company of the highest caliber. This is our first year, in many, without a youngster attending Circus Camp, so attending a performance was a way to reconnect with old friends. The performers in this year’s edition are young. Indeed, they are the youngest group I can remember from years of going to their performances. The show gainfully highlighted some of the youngest talent. It also focused on clowning, a skill honed by several of the older, more experienced, performers. The group scenes were beautifully choreographed, and the show, as a whole was both visually engaging, and downright fun.
There were a couple of disturbing bits though. First, although I was on crutches, and a few people we know who are associated with the tour, stopped to talk with us, I was not invited to come into the tent early, as has been the case before. Instead, we waited for 30 minutes, STANDING in the hot sun. Persons in wheelchairs, or who used walkers, were admitted early. People around us commented to me about this discrimination. When we were finally admitted, most of the lower seats were reserved, meaning I had to work my way to the top of the bleachers, then back down, and in a very tumultuous, crowded environment. Fortunately, the bleachers were only about eight rows high, and the steps shallow.
The other issue was one of appropriation. The current show is set in the Twenties and early Thirties. The costuming, beautifully designed by Katrin Leblond, fit the period superbly. One characteristic of design at that time, was the use of Native American motifs. Naive American design influences have appeared in circus since at least the time of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Circus is, by its very nature, postmodern, usurping design and mythological motifs from everywhere. (Also, clowning is an ancient Native device, often used in sacred contexts. Clowning is also just plain fun!) Yet, I found the use of Native references, taken out of context and with no attention to Native culture, hurtful. I’m sure any racism was unintentional (see the recent post by Sarah-Joyce Battersby about similar content at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin), and hope folks will be more attentive next year. (The twenties and thirties were a really difficult time for Natives throughout the U.S., just ask people of my parents’ generation.)
These concerns aside, the show is fun and the price is great. Go see Smirkus when the kids come to a town near you this summer.