Lately, I’ve been noticing a
resurgence of circus, Vaudeville, and Victorian magic show aesthetics in
popular culture and media. Sequins, tutus, leotards, pinstripes, tights,
and mini top hats have made a revival among our celebrities. Less
extreme versions of these fashions have found their way into the closets
of alternative teenagers.
The circus has become
increasingly popular in the past ten years in large part due to the
contemporary circus movement via Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil was
founded in Quebec in 1984. It now has shows in all over the world,
including three in Las Vegas and three in New York.
Bravo television brought Cirque
du Soleil to a wider audience in early 2000. Those who live in places
without a stationary circus and not often visited could experience it
through their shows Solstrom (2003), which recreates acts from
various shows for the screen and Fire Within (2004), which
documents the creation and performers of the show Varekai.
Contemporary circus differs from
traditional circus in that it makes little to no use of animals for its
acts, rarely has a ringleader and instead focuses on story, much like at
a ballet. The music is more varied, often live, featuring everything
from opera to industrial; most of the acts revolve around a variety of
acrobatics from aerial silks, tightrope, trampoline, jugglers, etc.
Now that the circus has again
become mainstream, an upsurge of circus and magic-related entertainment
has appeared throughout Hollywood. Films like The Illusionist,
staring Ed Norton and Jessica Biel, and The Prestige, with
Christian Bale and Scarlet Johansson, both of which were in theatres in
2007, take place within the world of the Victorian/Edwardian magic show.
Circus and variety show styling
bled into pop music as well, first with Panic! At the Disco’s
music video “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” (2006) which features the
Lucent Dossier Experience, an alternative circus based in California.
Then came Britney Spear’s hit album Circus (2008). The music of Circus
borrows from the circus waltzes of the 19th century (like
those of The Ringling Brothers) combined with contemporary club music to
create a catchy album. The album artwork features photographs of Spears
decked-out in fashions inspired by trapeze artists. This styling was
then continued and topped by pop artist Pink, as she actually performed
an aerial act while singing for the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009.
Juicy Couture’s autumn 2009
campaign featured a contortionist and a ringleader/magician type
character. The catch line was “Do the Donts” and advertised frilly
feathered jackets and brightly colored tights. Lucent Dossier Experience
has been photographed for Vogue magazine twice. They were also the
subject of a shoot with Vanity Fair for this past January’s Italian
issue. Hot Topic, a store that has found its way into virtually every
mall in America, is now carrying a line of top hats with netting and
peacock feathers. They also sell tutus.
What is it about the circus that
has once again captured the American eye? Why is it that suddenly people
care about extravagance, dangerous feats, and the fashion that goes with
Perhaps we are enamored with
impossibilities made possible. The circus shows the full extent of the
human potential: upon watching aerial acts we see that we can fly, the
tightrope reveals that we can find balance even when our trials are
extreme; when a jester trips and fools we see our own follies in a
humorous light. Fashions borrowed bring to mind these things. We see
that there is magic, adventure, and delight even when we occupy a
stationary world. When we wear brightly colored tights or a feathered
head piece we are taking little risks in a blue and white collared
world. We become in our imaginations the wayfaring stranger.
How to Make a Tutu