What's Next? A Calendar of Circus Festivals and Events, in the UK and Abroad

OK, you've been to Circus Now. Your definition of circus has been expanded. You're looking at the art with a new sense of keen insight and rounded appreciation. You are exhilarated by the possibilities. But what, or where, next? Consult the list below and lock your attendance at these notable circus festivals and events.

Circusstad Festival (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

29 April - 5 May 2013

Created in 2010 partly to tie in with and promote the new circus arts programme at the codarts conservatoire in Rotterdam, Circusstad is a one-week festival that puts on indoor work in two of the city's major theatres, plus a programme of open air and tented performance that all happens in a giant square in the city centre. The festival has a programming team that runs the spectrum from commercial to experimental producers and agents, and the work that gets chosen covers a similarly broad range – but you could say perhaps that, on the whole, it leans towards productions with a rough energy and aesthetic; work that's young, in a way, and not too poetic, and very cool.

Included in this year's large programme are Cirque Inextremiste's Extremités (in which two men torment a third in a wheelchair by repeatedly robbing him of mobility – good, and funny, in a sandpapery way); a performance by Swedish boys La Meute in the stripped-down style currently characterising Scandinavian circus; master clown Leandre's improvisatory No Se; and the indoor version of Gandini Juggling's highly praised and incredibly well-travelled Pina Bauschian tanzjonglage work Smashed.


Brighton Festival

4-26 May 2013

This year Brighton programmes two large-scale works from huge international companies: Cirkopolis by Cirque Éloize, and How Like An Angel by Circa. How Like An Angel had its UK premiere at Norfolk and Norwich Festival in 2012 – a high-end work for cathedrals and major church spaces, featuring also the vocal choir I Fagiolini, that's nudged its way out of the worn tracks of circus and onto the international circuit of performing arts festivals. For Brighton the piece is sited at Hove's All Saints Church, and if you can't make it you can watch a previous, complete performance online.

Cirkopolis is the latest show of Cirque Éloize. Based in Montreal, Cirque Éloize are not entirely unlike the city's other big name, Cirque du Soleil: the shows perhaps aren't as grand or as technically extravagant, but they primarily showcase exemplary skill by setting acts within rough thematic frames or very loose narratives.

On a slightly smaller scale, Casus' Knee Deep – last in the UK for the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, where it by all accounts did pretty well – investigates the interplay of fragility and strength in circus. The company was founded by former members of Circa, and the show shares some of the bareness of the Circa aesthetic while bringing in an earthier cabaret vibe.

Finally, the Belgian star Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui occasionally and a little dubiously gets claimed by the circus crowd – as a choreographer who's worked with acrobats and as an artist whose movement style skirts extreme ranges of motion. Anyway, Sutra, whatever the genre, is a piece made with monks from the Shaolin Temple (the best monks) and plays out in a modular set of 21 wooden boxes designed by sculptor Antony Gormley.


Norfolk and Norwich Festival

10-26 May 2013

Like Brighton, Norfolk and Norwich is a major festival programming indoor and outdoor work, and, like Brighton, one with the clout to bring in some international blockbuster companies. In 2013 there's the latest work by the Quebec giants The 7 Fingers, Séquence 8, as well as two shows by the Australian group Circa: a reprise of How Like An Angel at Norwich Cathedral, and new spiegeltent show Beyond.

At the satellite location of Great Yarmouth's Hippodrome there's also a performance of Risque ZérO by the French company Galapiat, a youngish, smallish French group that shows up often on the festival circuit, that runs its own annual festival, Tant qu'il y aura des mouettes, and that travelled and performed extensively in South America (publishing two books about the experience). Risque ZérO is their headline show, a playful piece that interprets risk as experimentation/research as much as physical danger.


Postcards Festival (London)

13-29 June 2013

Originally conceived as a platform for the short-form circus performances that wouldn't fit in Jacksons Lane's regular programming, Postcards, now on its third edition, has settled as a festival presenting new works by mostly emerging companies in circus and cabaret.

This year Mimbre perform their half-promenade work Falling Up (one of a small rush of pieces currently engaging with the question of how circus artists cope with ageing), there's a double bill featuring Inverted's Tesserae, a piece experimenting with bringing unusual patterns and paces of movement to acrobatic vocabulary, and Triptych, an (aerial) bike work performed by Alice Allart under the company Bikes & Rabbits; and, as with last year's festival, a night of short experimental presentations from artists supported by Circus Space's research fund lab:time.


Greenwich + Docklands (London)

21-29 June 2013

Greenwich + Docklands headlines with excellently located large-scale spectacles that adopt the sort of aesthetic you might get at a big opening ceremony – wire work, projections, panoramas, historic buildings (the festival uses the interior square of Greenwich's Old Royal Naval College as one if its sites) – but makes space for smaller works at Greenwich Park and Cutty Sark Gardens, as well as up at the Royal Observatory.

The programme for 2013 is yet to be released, but as a member of the Without Walls consortium the festival will be one of the places to see Tilted's Fragile, a piece for circus artists and dancers performed on a gigantic set that recreates a rooftop garden.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

2-26 August 2013

The Edinburgh Fringe usually isn't a good place to see circus work, but early indicators suggest 2013 will be an above average year, with NoFit State taking their two current productions Bianco (in their own silver spacetent) and Noodles (appearing at the New Town Theatre on George Street), and a small programme of circus work being installed at Summerhall (an arts centre / gothic fantasia housed in a former veterinary college) to complement the journalist residency programme Unpack the Arts.


Festival CIRCa (Auch, France)

18-27 October 2013

It began in 1988 as a meeting of circus schools and, through two decades of extension and growth, Festival CIRCa has kept that purpose close at heart: today it is foremost a place for the students of Europe's major circus schools to perform, to experience each other's work, and to immerse themselves within a professional programme that draws widely from the diverse facets of contemporary circus.

So for one week each year CIRCa takes over Auch, a small town in Southern France, fitting tents in spaces between buildings, in carparks, on grassy wedges of land, in front of the town's cathedral, by the riverside. You can buy tickets for the school shows (there are usually two a day), which are boisterous and rousing if not always theatrically adept, and then there each festival there are fifteen or so professional productions, about half of which are entirely new. It's not the place to go to see contemporary circus' Greatest Hits; rather to get an overview of the year's artistic work and, perhaps, to see the next big thing. Underlying it all is a sort of second programme for the industry (but open to the public) of networking events, book launches, and project presentations.


London International Mime Festival

9 January - 1 February 2014

The London International Mime Festival is a stopping point for some of Europe's most significant and influential circus companies. Over its 30+ year history LIMF has hosted such luminaries as Mathurin Bolze, Aurélien Bory, Zimmermann & de Perrot, Jérôme Thomas and Circo Aereo, as well as presenting UK artists from the early days of Ra-Ra Zoo through to companies like Ockham's Razor, Gandini Juggling and Sugar Beast Circus.


Subcase (Stockholm, Sweden)

12-14 February 2014

Subcase is a 'circus fair' – a place where promoters and producers can spend two days encountering work-in-progress and tour-ready performances by Scandinavian artists. The Nordic countries have consistently punched above their weight in the last half decade or so. Of the work that's reached the UK consider the Finnish group Race Horse Company, whose show Petit Mal pulses with a low threatening energy before bursting its own seams and seguing from a Joy Division skit into an energetic Elvis tribute, ending, finally, in a Fun House blowout with Swiss balls and coloured feathers; the artist Ilona Jäntti, also Finnish, whose solo aerial works have grown progressively more technically complex and experimental, performing in one piece on a stream of suspended chickenwire, or in another across a network of taut black cords stretched over the stage; and the Swedish director Olle Strandberg, the creator of the burly hand-to-hand lost love weepie Undermän, as well as the new breakdance / juggling piece Ballroom House.


CircusFest (London)

Spring 2014

The flagship circus festival of the Roundhouse, CircusFest is a biennial giant, each edition spanning most of April, and the last spreading out from its Camden HQ to include work placed at a small number of other London venues. At this point the only confirmed show is Circus Geeks' Propeller Prize winner Beta Testing.


Calendar written and compiled by John Ellingsworth. For more comprehensive information see Sideshow's event listings and list of festivals.