Circus and space:
I have spoken of space and it has been defined as that place where bodies and movement inhabit or are situated, where bodies adapt and stories are created. But little has been said about the circus. Until now it has been spoken that the circus is the place where artists share part of their journey, that it is where pain is romanticised and where artists become their own tools, as well as trying to interact with other bodies.
But the circus is much more, the circus is a place where you can distort reality, take you to a new one, show you that bodies can go beyond the limits reaching the impossible, and in it not only seeks to entertain or amuse an audience, but to tell stories through spectacle and new experiences. The circus is about human culture, about risk, about the impossible.
And what is the importance of space in the circus?
On the one hand, space in the circus has the capacity to transport bodies to another universe. When the audience enters the space where the show is going to take place, you have already adapted, transformed and travelled, the space prepares you for what is going to happen. The space puts you in context, situates you, speaks to you. The space can connect you with the present, with the moment, with what is happening or is going to happen.
On the other hand, space is not only the place where all this happens, but it has the power to be transformed as part of the circus. That is to say, space is not only place, but it is part of the interconnections that are created - between it and the bodies -, generating a series of dialogues that tell stories, distort reality, transforming everything. Space is part of the discipline, of the training, of the creation, of the spectacle. The transformation of space is circus.
Space is the place where the circus happens and at the same time it is circus.
The importance of space in the circus is that it allows, in this new reality, to break the verticality between the artist and everything else, putting an end to the anthropocentric gaze, erasing the established barrier of binarism between the material and the living, creating horizontal spaces, strengthening interconnections, making the invisible visible and creating movements as dialogues.
In both experiences, whether of space as the place where the circus takes place, or space as part of the circus, space is inhabited, by the bodies, by the spectacle, by the movement, by the invisible, by the space itself.
Is space then a limiting factor when it comes to expressing yourself and inhabiting it, or is space a place where you can adapt and find new ways of expressing yourself and inhabiting it? Restrictions or limitations are nothing more than the possibility of finding new ways. It is a way to expand your vision and turn things around. You get out of your comfort zone and find other ways of acting. What can you do with? There is no freedom without restriction. And you can choose to adapt to what you are offered by turning it into a new possibility or to conform.
And for this, for all of the above to happen, we have to embody space.
But how do we embody space? To embody space is to personify or represent it. Space has its means of communication, as do bodies. Both have limits, that is to say, possibilities. Therefore, a dialogue has to be created between body and space in order to do so. Giving and receiving, observing, listening and adapting. And in order to adapt to space, the body must inhabit it. And for this we cannot forget that it has its history and experience, like bodies. That there is not only what we see, but also what we do not see.
When one begins to inhabit space, one must be open to change, for no space is inhabited in the same way, just as bodies do not inhabit space in the same way. As Laban quoted, "space is a difficult word to define. Ask twenty people their opinion as to what space means to them and you will most likely get twenty answers". To embody space, you have to move. We have to find the paths it offers us and then inhabit them, just as bodies also offer them and it is space that adapts.
In what ways can the body adapt through movement as dialogue. By moving we interrelate with space, creating a connection that makes both space and bodies transform.
When space is transformed, when we transform it, we embody it. All embodiment will depend on the lived experience of space. Spanovangelis (2021), said that "Embodiment is intimately linked and connected to our inhabitation and experience of space".
We observe, we listen, we adapt ourselves to inhabit a space. We create a dialogue that transforms the space, thus embodying it.
However, it must be borne in mind that not everything visible and invisible will always be seen in the same way. For as we have already seen, each body has its own way of understanding and seeing things, due to its own experiences, ways of thinking and living. We will never fully know the purpose for which a space was created - in the case of spatial architecture - because it will be difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who made it, thought it, imagined it. Since nobody and nothing lives the same experience in the same way.
And how does the circus embody space? In the same way as bodies, through movement, adaptation, observation and listening. The circus inhabits space to embody it and space is embodied by the circus to transform it.
In the book Thinking through the circus, the idea is defended that we are bodies that inhabit space, and that as the different bodies that we are, we have different ways of inhabiting and communicating. And this is nothing more than the possibility of understanding and getting to know new ways of moving and communicating through the body, through bodies.
We can know and understand other bodies through dialogue, observation and listening, the book Vibrant Matter (2009) suggests that "life is unknown to us except in association with bodies" (p.75). The body has its own way of communicating through movement without the need for words. Movement is the dialogue between bodies, in it resides thought, its history, and it is through it that spaces are inhabited.
Let me return to the concept of embodying or representing the image as the meaning of embodying. When one embodies a space one can take two paths, the first is that one interprets what one sees, touches or feels, that is, one creates one's own history of what one inhabits; and the second is that one seeks the imprint of the one who created that space or body that one intends to inhabit. When one embodies a space that has been created, one is not only inhabiting that space, but the one who created it. It is not a representation, but an imprint left by the artist, a movement, a thought, an agitation. When you embody a space, there is not a space and a body, there is only a space, your body becomes that space. There is no space without a body, just as there is no body without space. "The image touches me, and, thus touched and drawn by it and into it, I get involved, not to say mixed up in it" (Nancy, 2005, p.7). Space penetrates you in the same way that you do.
When this happens, when a space is embodied, this encounter, this dialogue becomes intimate. Two bodies communicating to offer each other possibilities, telling their own stories to turn them into common ones. It is showing your vulnerability and sharing it. Nancy defends this idea in her book Ground of the Image:
Our body is an imprint, just like space. Our body harbours physical knowledge, as well as showing the inner ones. Movement shows the invisible of our body, that which others do not see. Our body also has human and social culture, through generations stories and experiences that the body remembers and memorises. The body and space are visible and invisible, they have traces, they have history, they are vulnerable and intimate.