The E/ Motions Around Injury in Circus Performance: Merleau Ponty's Body Schema and Physical Extremes in Circus

Professor Peta Tait
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The spectacle of circus creates an oscillating illusion of glamour and danger through skilful displays in which performers evoke cultural ideas of life and death. The theatrical performance of danger camouflages the actual risks for performers. These become publicly known only when accidents are reported in the newspapers and other media but this only serves to reinforce the common belief that circus is dangerous because the performer is fallible and makes mistakes. He or she might falter but the greater risk is that the apparatus will fail the performer.

Circus performers smile and style in carefree ease that invites audiences to respond with delight. They perform pleasure and enjoyment and an act is designed with interludes in the focused concentration on the physical skills so that the performers can signal such emotions.

Experienced performers usually have one serious accident, which means their performance is often also compensating for the bodily effect of injury. Accompanying the unseen risks are performers’ experiences of pain and difficulty that belie the performances of emotion, emotional spectacle in circus.

This paper will consider some of the accidents by the great performers of trapeze history in combination with interviews with Australian aerialists to discuss perceptions of camouflaged pain and performed enjoyment in performance. It asks how do performers understand what Merleau Ponty terms their body schema, when they work in physical extremes? If the pain of another is unknowable (Scarry), in circus it is further masked with the performance of enjoyment.

Keywords: -
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication, Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Professor Peta Tait

In Person Attendance, Professor in Theatre and Drama 
La Trobe University, La Trobe University


Professor Peta Tait is at Theatre and Drama Program at La Trobe University, Australia and publishes on bodies in circus performance and gender identity and the performance of emotion. She has written books on gender and Australian performance, and her most recent books are: Performing Emotions: Gender, Bodies, Spaces in Chekhov's Drama and Stanislavski's Theatre (Aldershot: Ashgate 2002) and the editored Body Show/s: Australian Viewings of Live Performance (Rodopi 2000). She is currently working on Circus Bodies: Identity in Aerial Performance (Routledge 2005).

Ref: H06P0130