• Photo: Camilla Greenwell

  • Photo: JP Masclet

  • Circa Tsuïca

  • Race Horse Company

  • Photo: ASH


2018 is the 250th anniversary of circus and Circus250 is being celebrated nationwide and across Europe.

In 1768 Philip and Patty Astley established the first permanent circular arena on the banks of the Thames, presenting trick riding and acrobatics – creating what we now consider the first modern circus.

What we call ‘contemporary circus’ was formed in the 1970s as a radical break from circus’ traditional form. It has continued to evolve during the last 50 years and in 2018, a great deal has changed. Circus has expanded as an art form and can now be found outside the ring or the tent and in every kind of venue, festival and site-specific event. Yet like the circus of old, contemporary circus has grown and spread around the world, it is about the live event, of shared experiences, and about the extraordinary physical capability of the human body. It shares the DNA of the Astleys; it is still physical, still real and still diverse.

Any anniversary is an opportunity to look both forward and back. In 2018, Crying Out Loud is doing just that with a tour across the UK of Now or Never,  a rousing circus show performed by musical acrobats in a traditional big top; Cascade, a site specific juggling and musical extravaganza in the water fountains of the historic courtyard of Somerset House, London as part of Circus Sampler two free weekends of contemporary circus which will also feature Union Black by Far From The Norm and a host of international and local artists, Marawa the Amazing and the Majorettes and a compelling new installation, from artist Rose English; and Motosikai,  a touring madcap street show performed out of the back of a transit van;

We hope you’ll come along to our events in 2018 and celebrate Circus250 because any circus show without an audience is nothing after all.




  • What is Circus?

    The contemporary circus has everything old, flying, falling, grace, risk, sweat, injury and beauty, and moments of absolute fear. It has the realness of life meeting death, the seconds when time runs slow and it still has, often if not always, the devil’s virtuosity.

    Most of all it has the quality of what you least expect because today the circus has been turned inside out. It has gone from being a closed art form with skills handed down generationally, family to family, to an open, connective, experimental practice seeking out new collaborators, new directions yet holding to age old ideas that were always there under the hot lights and fanfare of circuses past.

    By questioning the basics you get to the heart of it. How far can you strip back a trick? Can you juggle with ice? What if the circus tent itself was alive?

    Circus has stayed in the tent, le chapiteau, large and small but it has spread as well into theatres, art galleries, museums, parks, forests, abandoned warehouses and forgotten fire stations. It has appeared in towering steel structures and swung down the fronts of landmark buildings. It has been on the streets. But it has always been on the streets.

    Circus was always on the borders of society. Now it is on the border of art forms. Something new has been born in an intermingled space where ideas are constantly tested against one another. It takes on elements of dance, martial arts, puppetry, extreme sports, tricking, mime, devised theatre and countless other forms. But while the approaches are manifold, all the artists are trying to do is find what is deepest and most fundamental in their art and how best to express it.

    Ask yourself, as they do, what is circus?

    Text by John Ellingsworth from the Circus Post film What is Circus?