1st Edition

Circus and the Avant-Gardes
History, Imaginary, Innovation

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after March 15, 2022
ISBN 9780367757281
March 15, 2022 Forthcoming by Routledge
304 Pages 27 B/W Illustrations

USD $160.00

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Book Description

This book examines how circus and circus imaginary have shaped the historical avant-gardes at the beginning of the 20th century and the cultures they help constitute, to what extent this is a mutual shaping, and why this is still relevant today.

This book aims to produce a better sense of the artistic work and cultural achievements that have emerged from the interplay of circus and avant-garde artists and projects, and to clarify both their transhistorical and trans-medial presence, and their scope for interdisciplinary expansion. Across 14 chapters written by leading scholars – from fields as varied as circus, theatre and performance studies, art, media studies, film and cultural history – some of which are written together with performers and circus practitioners, the book examines to what extent circus and avant-garde connections contribute to a better understanding of early 20th century artistic movements and their enduring legacy, of the history of popular entertainment, and the cultural relevance of circus arts. Circus and the Avant-Gardes elucidates how the realm of the circus as a model, or rather a blueprint for modernist experiment, innovation and (re)negotiation of bodies, has become fully integrated in our ways of perceiving avant-gardes today.

The book does not only map the significance of circus/avant-garde phenomena for the past, but, through an exploration of their contemporary actualisations (in different media), also carves out their achievements, relevance, and impact, both cultural and aesthetic, on the present time.

Table of Contents



List of Illustrations

Chapter 1

Arts for all Senses: Circus and the Avant-Gardes – Introduction

Anna-Sophie Jürgens and Mirjam Hildbrand



Chapter 2

A Treasure Trove for Avant-garde Artists? Metropolitan Circus Performances around 1900

Mirjam Hildbrand

Chapter 3

Circus, Dada, Vaudeville: Historical Avant-Garde – Between Popular and Experimental Theatre

Martina Gross

Chapter 4

‘Attractive Novelties’: Spectacular Innovation and the Making of a New Kind of Audience within Colonial Modernity

Martyn Jolly







Chapter 5

Typocircus and the Czech Avant-Gardes

Anne Hultsch

Chapter 6

The Present as a Trick or the Assault on the Spectator’s Psyche: Circus and the Soviet Avant-Garde

Oksana Bulgakowa



Chapter 7

‘Like a Three-ring Circus’: The Avant-garde Appropriates the Circus in the Battle between Distraction and Attractions

Tom Gunning

Chapter 8

The Animated Circus and New Arts of Motion

Kristian Moen



Chapter 9

‘Glitter and Broken Bones’: Professional Wrestling, Circus, Avant-Garde and the Radical Participatory Body

Claire Warden


Chapter 10

Glam Clowning: From Dada to Gaga – A Conversation with Le Pustra

Anna-Sophie Jürgens and Le Pustra

Chapter 11

The Aesthetics of Queer Work: Loïe Fuller’s Exhausting Life as Performance Art in Stéphanie Di Giusto’s The Dancer (2016)

Wesley Lim




Chapter 12

Political Clowns, Thrilling Strong Women and Animal-Free Excitement: Circus Reimagined through 1970s Avant-Garde Political Theatre

Jane Mullett and Peta Tait

Chapter 13

Avant-Garde Gestures and Contemporaneity in Today’s Circus

Louis Patrick Leroux

Chapter 14


‘Today for the last time’? On the Cultural Meanings of Circus and the Avant-Gardes – Some Final Provocations

Mirjam Hildbrand, Anna-Sophie Jürgens and Aiden Essery

Notes on Contributors



Notes on Contributors


Professor Oksana Bulgakowa is Professor Emeritus of Film History and Analysis at the University of Mainz, Germany. She is an expert on Sergei Eisenstein, Russian-Soviet film and theatre history, and Russian avant-gardes. She published several books on Russian and German cinema, including a monograph on FEKS: The Factory of Eccentric Actors (Berlin 1997) and Sergei Eisenstein: A Biography (in English 2002/Russian 2017). She directed films, curated exhibits and developed multimedia projects (see the website The Visual Universe of Sergei Eisenstein, Daniel Langlois-Foundation, Montreal, 2005; the DVD Factory of Gestures: On Body Language in Film, Stanford Humanities Lab, 2008; and Sergei Eisenstein; My art in Life for Google Arts &Culture, 2017). She taught at the Humboldt University and Free University of Berlin, Stanford (1998-2004), UC Berkeley (2005) and the International Film School in Cologne. In 2012 she received a Fellowship at the Stanford Humanities Center.

Aiden Essery, MA, is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University with a Master in Economics. Before returning to university, he worked in industry advocacy as an Economic Policy Adviser. Aiden has a keen interest in multidisciplinary research and collaboration across the landscape of intellectual inquiry and cultural production. During his time in advocacy Aiden collaborated with a wide range of industry stakeholders to facilitate knowledge exchange. This led policy approaches being tailored to new contexts in innovative ways. He is fascinated by the unpacking and synthesising of meaning-making processes at the interface between academia, policy making and industry, and believes that each has something to contribute to the other. With a lifelong passion for art and communication, Aiden is interested in how communication translates experience and identity into culture, in art’s ability to generate emotional engagement and how art can mobilise ideas about experience in the cultural space.


Dr Martina Groß is a Lecturer (equivalent of Assistant Professor) in the Department of Media, Theatre and Popular Culture at the University of Hildesheim, Germany. She studied Theatre, Film and Media, Romance Philology, and Comparative Literature in Paris, Nantes and Frankfurt/Main. She was a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute Paris as well as a Visiting Professor of Theatre Studies at the LMU Munich. Her research and teaching focus on transnational theatre practice and its documentation, dramaturgy and spectatorship, experimental and marginalised theatre forms, methods of theatre historiography, early modern theatre, and translation as a critical theatre practice. She recently published "Travel literature as/and transnational theatre history: Beyond national theatre cultures" in The Transnational in Literary Studies: Potential and Limitations of a Concept (World Literatures 17, ed. Kai Wiegandt, De Gruyter 2020).

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0346-8779

Professor Tom Gunning is Professor Emeritus in the Department on Cinema and Media at the University of Chicago, USA. He is the author of D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film (University of Illinois Press, 1986) and The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity (British Film Institute, 2000), as well as over 150 articles on early cinema, film history and theory, avant-garde film, film genre, and cinema and modernism. With Andre Gaudreault he originated the influential theory of the "Cinema of Attractions". In 2009 he was awarded an Andrew A. Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award and in 2010 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is currently working on a book on the invention of the moving image. His theatre piece, created in collaboration with director Travis Preston, Fantomas: The Revenge of the Image premiered in 2017 at the Wuzhen International Theater Festival in Wuzhen, China.






Mirjam Hildbrand, MA, studied Dramaturgy at the University of Music and Theatre ‘Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’ and Performance Studies at the Institute for Media, Theatre and Popular Culture at the University of Hildesheim, Germany. She is currently a PhD candidate in Theatre Studies at the University of Bern and investigates the tense relationship between circus and bourgeois theatre between 1869 and 1918. Her project is funded, among others, by the Swiss National Science Foundation. In parallel to her dissertation, she works as a freelance dramaturge with internationally renowned circus artists and theatres (including the circus and dance company Overhead Project), collaborates on an array of projects with scenographers and costume designers (e.g. För Künkel) and also works for the contemporary Station Circus in Basel which over the last five years invited internationally touring circus companies such as Circus Ronaldo, Jani Nuutinen/Circo Aereo, Cie MPTA, Cie Defracto, Cie Sacékripa and many others.

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5869-3802

Dr Dr Anne Hultsch is an Associate Professor (Privatdozentin) in the Department of Slavonic Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria. She works in the field of Slavonic Literatures and Cultures and is an expert on Czech Avant-Gardes (particularly Czech typography). Her research also draws on experimental poetry, transcultural literatures and the cultural history of vodka. She has recently edited (and translated) Karel Honzík‘s memories From the life of the avant-garde: Adventures of an architect (2019) and The wordy world of book design: Czech avant-garde book art 1918-1938 – Contemporary book designers and their critics about book art, letterpress, book covers, book illustration (2017). Together with the Saxon State and University Library she is working on the expansion and exploitation of a special collection of Czech avant-garde books, and curated several exhibitions, e.g. on "Czech Avant-garde Book Art – The Vloemans Collection" (Dresden 2017) and "Circus at the Printery – Czech Avant-Garde" (Leipzig 2019).

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6128-8883

Dr Martyn Jolly is an artist and a writer. He is an Honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University School of Art and Design. His books include Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography (2006); The Magic Lantern at Work: Witnessing, Persuading, Experiencing and Connecting, co-edited with Elisa DeCourcy (2020); Empire, Early Photography and Spectacle: the Global Career of Showman Daguerreotypist J. W. Newland, co-authored with Elisa DeCourcy (2020); and Installation View: Australian Photography Exhibitions 1848-2020, co-authored with Daniel Palmer (2021). He led the Australian Research Council Discovery project Heritage in the Limelight: The Magic Lantern in Australia and the World. His artwork is held by the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Canberra Museum and Gallery. He has developed a series of collaborative magic lantern performances around Australia.

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5869-3802

Dr Anna-Sophie Jürgens is Lecturer (equivalent of Assistant Professor) in Popular Entertainment Studies at the Australian National University. She has published on circus fiction and aesthetics, the history of (violent) clowns, comic mad scientists, clown robots, the cultural meanings of science, and comic performance and technology in culture in numerous academic journals. She was an Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellow at the Australian National University and the Free University of Berlin from 2017 to 2020. She is the guest editor of two special themed journal issues on popular performance and science (Journal of Science & Popular Culture, 2020) and violent clowns (Comedy Studies, 2020), co-editor of Manegenkünste: Zirkus als ästhetisches Modell (transcript, 2020) and the sole editor of the volume Circus, Science and Technology: Dramatising Innovation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7347-2488



Dr Wesley Lim is a Lecturer (equivalent of Assistant Professor) in German Studies at the Australian National University. His research analyses representations of and discourses on dance and the moving body in German and Austrian literature and screen from the nineteenth through the twenty first century and has appeared in publications like German Studies Review, Dance Research Journal, Dance Chronicle, Feminist German Studies, and TDR: The Drama Review. His first book project Dancing with the Modernist City: Metropolitan Dance Texts around 1900 deals with interpenetrating depictions of dance and city space in modernist texts. And his latest project will be the first comprehensive study of East German figure skating culture. 

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6797-9397

Dr Kristian Moen is a Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Bristol, UK. He has published and presented work on topics related to animation, film history and theory, intermediality and the relationship between cinema and modernity. His first book, Film and Fairy Tales: The Birth of Modern Fantasy (I. B. Tauris, 2013), focused on the deep relationships between fairy tales, spectacle and cinema during its first decades. His current research exploring the aesthetics, intermediality and history of animation has led to a number of publications, including New York’s Animation Culture: Advertising, Art, Design and Film, 1939-1940 (Palgrave, 2019).

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1976-5700

Dr Jane Mullett’s circus work has been both practical and theoretical. In the 1970s and 1980s, she performed with Circus Royale and Circus Oz. Through the 1990s she was tent boss and head of training at the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. In 1994 she received a Winston Churchill Fellowship to look at circus schools in China, Russia and Europe. As a result, she started work to set up a national tertiary circus school in Australia. This was the vision that led to the establishment of the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in 2000. Jane received her doctorate in 2006 from La Trobe University (Australia) and from 2006 to 2018 she worked at RMIT University (Australia) primarily as a Research Fellow in climate change adaptation.

Le Pustra is an actor and queer "kunstfigur" best known for his provocative Weimar Republic Cabaret inspired Le Pustra's Kabarett der Namenlosen and playing mysterious nightclub owner, "Edwina Morell" in the award-winning TV series Babylon Berlin (Season 3 and 4). The artist's dazzling and inspirational unique style have been featured in numerous theatrical events, photo art books, international fashion publications, art exhibitions, music videos, short films and paintings. Le Pustra is currently working on a self-titled photo book documenting his visual and creative transformation process incorporating elements of drag, theatre and fashion.

Louis Patrick Leroux is a Professor and Associate Dean of Research at Concordia University, Montreal (Canada). His research spans from theatre to contemporary circus and has involved research-creation and cultural discourse analysis. He teaches at the National Circus School and is founding director of the Montreal Working Group on Circus Research. Recent books include: Cirque Global: Québec’s Expanding Circus Boundaries, co-edited with Charles Batson (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016) and Contemporary Circus, with Katie Lavers and Jon Burtt (Routledge, 2019). He was elected to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada.

Professor Peta Tait, Theatre and Drama, La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia), is an academic scholar, playwright and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She has written 60 scholarly articles and chapters and recent books include: the authored Theory for Theatre Studies: Emotion (Bloomsbury, 2021); the co-edited Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); the authored Fighting Nature: Travelling Menageries, Animal Acts and War Shows (Sydney University Press, 2016); the co-edited The Routledge Circus Studies Reader (2016); authored Wild and Dangerous Performances (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1081-2710

Professor Anita Traninger is Full Professor of Romance Literatures and Director of the Cluster of Excellence "Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective" at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Her areas of research include the history and theory of rhetoric, transcultural entanglements of literature and discourses of knowledge from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, as well as media history. Her books include: The Emergence of Impartiality (ed. with Kathryn Murphy, Leiden: Brill 2014); Discourses of Anger in the Early Modern Period (ed. with Karl A.E. Enenkel, Leiden: Brill 2015); The Figure of the Nymph in Early Modern Culture (ed. with Karl A.E. Enenkel, Leiden: Brill 2018); Copia / Kopie: Echoeffekte in der Frühen Neuzeit (Hannover: Wehrhahn 2020).

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3964-8467


Dr Claire Warden is Senior Lecturer in English and Drama at Loughborough University, UK. Her research focuses on avant-garde performance practices, interdisciplinary modernism, and physical cultures, particularly the intersection of sport and art. She is the author of three monographs, including the British Academy-funded Migrating Modernist Performance: British Theatrical Travels through Russia (Palgrave, 2016). She is also co-editor of Performance and Professional Wrestling (Routledge, 2016). She co-founded the Arts Council-funded Wrestling Resurgence collective in 2017 and is the primary investigator for the British Academy project "Health and Wellbeing in Professional Wrestling". Her most recent publications include "Queer Music Hall Sport: All-In Wrestling and Modernist Fakery" (Modernism/modernity 21/1, 2020) and "Drama in the 1930s" for The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the 1930s (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

ORCID ID is https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4261-6770

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Anna-Sophie Jürgens is an Assistant Professor in Popular Entertainment Studies at the Australian National University (ANU), Australia. She is part of the network of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Her research explores the intersections between circus/comic performance, science and technology, and the cultural meanings of science.

Mirjam Hildbrand is a PhD candidate in Theatre Studies at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Her research explores historical circus practice, the intersections between circus/theatre, and the discourse of ‘high/low’ culture. She also works as a freelance dramaturge and a programmer in the field of contemporary circus.