Still a young art form in the Czech Republic, contemporary circus is finding a broad fan base through the annual festival Letní Letná. The genre incorporates multiple elements of circus arts around central themes and stories into creative performances intended to both entertain and inspire.
Unhindered by the ongoing construction of the entranceway to Tunel Blanka that is burrowing underneath Letná to connect with Troja, from Aug. 19–31 Letenské sady (Letna Park) in Prague 7 will come to life with unique performances from European artists displaying the many forms of a relatively new movement in the world of circus arts. The festival is celebrating its sixth year as the only local festival focused on this new theatrical genre. Letní Letná offers opportunities for both children and adults to be captivated by shows combining theater, acting, singing and nearly every imaginable form of circus arts.
“Letní Letná was founded as the first (and still now the only) festival focused on the fresh theater genre called ‘new circus’ in the Czech Republic,” Letní Letná artistic director Ondřej Cihlář told CBW. “The main goal still is to bring to Bohemia inspirational top European groups of new circus and of course also Czech and regional groups to let audiences compare their work.”
The concept of new or contemporary circus (“cirque nouveau”) finds its origins in France during the later part of the 20th century and is characterized by the portrayal of a story or theme through a performance incorporating traditional circus arts such as acrobatics, trapeze, juggling, music, miming and magic.
Cihlář explained that as a new concept in the Czech Republic, the genre was at first almost a complete unknown to the potential audience. Now, the genre is more widely understood but still maintains its unique status as something fresh and original. “In the beginning of Letní Letná we had to always explain to the audience what this ‘new circus’ is and to educate them. After five editions of this festival, we can tell that people and journalists know what new circus means, they know the main differences between the old classical circus, which is absolutely another genre,” he said.
Extensive program for children and adults
Cihlář cited four new highlights of this year’s program—Cirque Trottola, Le Boustrophédon (pictured, above) and Ateliér Le Feuvre & André (pictured, below) from France and La Putyka, which he noted is one of the first real Czech new circus shows that is comparable to the highest European level of new circus groups. Apart from these headline shows, the festival program includes a long list of both returning and new acts that will be taking part in this year’s festival that promise to individually offer distinctive experiences. “Of course I have to invite the audience to see more than 80 performances by 30 theater groups from all over Europe,” Cihlář said. As part of the festival program, there are also two workshops that focus on acrobatics.
The main performances will take place mostly in the evenings but there are plenty of events during the day for anyone, including children, to participate in. “All day from 11 a.m. till afternoon the festival is open for children with their parents to see puppet theater, fairy tales, or to try to juggle, for example, during the many workshops we offer,” Cihlář said. The extensive program for children incorporates a wide array of performances while also including opportunities for painting and mask making.
Young and growing
From his experience in seeking out new performers for the Letní Letná program, Cihlář said that it is evident that the genre of new circus is increasing in its popularity. “Around the year we are visiting lots of European new circus festivals when we are looking for the most interesting shows to bring them finally to Letní Letná, so we can say this genre is growing so fast,” he said. While the new circus art form has proliferated around the world the Czech Republic still has some catching up to do with other countries in Europe in terms of its involvement in the genre. “From France, where this genre was born and where there is still the base and biggest number of new circus groups, it has grown to all of Europe and Canada and the U.S. In Europe there are now more real ‘centers’ of new circus after France in Scandinavian countries, in the UK and in Spain.”
Letenské sady (Letná Park), Prague 7
The article was published in Czech Business Weekly