Background

Summary

In the Western Balkans circus arts are emerging. Young, semi-professional artists are learning circus skills individually via the Internet and in collectives from each other. They are creating performances applying techniques such as aerial acrobatics (tissue, trapeze), (fire)juggling, mime and theatre.

Acrobalance (“hand to hand” acrobatics or acroporter) is a specific circus discipline with a focus on balance, physical skills and cooperation. In Germany and Netherlands there is a well developed subculture of acrobats. There are regular meetings of performers, trainers and enthusiast acrobats from the amateur till the professional level. In the Western Balkans there is only limited knowledge and experience in practising acrobalance.

By organising the Acrobatics Festival in Bosnia we create an opportunity for local cirkusanti to develop their acrobalance skills in an exchange with acrobats and trainers from Western Europe.

Long term goals

  • By creating a positive event based on empowerment, cooperation and creativity, contrasting the stagnating political and economical situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we want to inspire local youth to take initiatives and to actually believe in the possibility to create a better future for themselves in their own country.
  • To reinforce local circus collectives’ initiatives and to encourage them to perform on an European level as well as to keep on working on their local recognition.
  • To put forward acrobalance as a tool for better understanding and a more tolerant society in BiH and in the Western Balkans and to increase mutual trust among citizens and youth
  • To show the local governments that circus skills (such as acrobalance) have been already recognized in Western Europe as a valuable artistic art form and deserve to be re-estimated through new cultural policies allowing them funding, space, etc.

Context

The wish to organise an international acrobalance convention in Bosnia and Herzegovina came to our mind after several observations.
Indeed, even if institutional support is lacking, informal groups are developing circus skills. In almost all the Balkan countries collectives are getting together, acquiring new techniques, creating performances and organising workshops. There are no formal circus schools in the region, all the skills are acquired “DIY”, through the Internet, through personal encounters and by attending conventions. It will be beneficial to bring these people together, to share knowledge and skills and to work with professional trainers.

In 2009, an experienced Dutch acrobat moved to Banja Luka. He initiated weekly acrobalance sessions with a small group of enthusiasts. The interest was growing and the group organised an acrobalance weekend in April 2010 where people from neighbouring countries attended. The people joining in Banja Luka are from different backgrounds such as street theatre, dance and athletic sports. They all show a lot of enthusiasm, because acrobalance was very new for them and because they discovered a new way of working with each other, based on trust, cooperation etc. but which at the same time requires dedication and self-consciousness. Since then, some participants of the training group organised two theatre performances in which acrobalance was given a considerable part.
(See for more information on our group on facebook, http://tinyurl.com/acro-bl)

Acrobatics with neighbourhood children in Albania

Bosnia Herzegovina is also a strategic place because of its geographical location (the heart of the Balkans) as well as because of its potential. A majority of the Bosnian youth their development is hampered by post-conflict issues. Many of them are not ready to think in new forms of art. The influence of the turbofolk-culture is still very strong as well as media propaganda.

Another part of the youth, with more opportunities, believes in a better future, but not in their own country. Bosnia Herzegovina doesn’t offer the possibility to develop their potential and they refuse to live in the traditional patriarchal society with a conservative mentality. They plan to move to Western- and Northern Europe.

Nevertheless, until the visa liberalisation, Bosnians had fewer chances to go abroad (either to study, for a cultural exchange or internships) and so it is important to receive foreigners and to make them meet, share their knowledge and their way of thinking. The acrobatics festival convention gives young people the possibility to discover and create new forms of arts. With these new skills and experiences, some of them will become more self-aware and self-reliant and might make the choice to stay and develop their activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina lacks general means to support culture, let alone to support new subcultures and disciplines. Subsidies for cultural events and activities are very low and infrastructure still needs to be developed. The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina contrasts with the neighbouring countries: Croatia and Serbia are recovering faster and the cultural life there is much better, even if mainstream is still prominent, subcultures find a more fertile ground.

Indeed, Zagreb even has now a “New circus festival”, strongly still supported by the French embassy for the first years, and local festivals of “Street entertainment” were born, 4 years ago in Skopje and then spread to Belgrade and Novi Sad. Tourist cities in Dalmatia and Montenegro organise summer festivals with foreign street artists. Still in these regions we can’t actually talk about the development of a new scene, as these festivals are mostly aimed at foreign tourists.

On a regional level, we assert that the number of young people learning circus skills is growing and they are gaining visibility during the last few years. They started as groups of enthusiasts training in the streets, then created associations and companies and moved into squatted buildings etc. to have their own place to train and to perform. In short, they are professionalising. A network of young circus collectives from the Balkans should soon be officially registered.

The new groups of young “cirkusanti”, as they call themselves, have been, till now, mostly learning skills which can be practised individually and which don’t require a trainer or collective work, such as juggling (with various objects). Workshops or performances of aerial disciplines like trapeze or tissues can also be seen. In these disciplines, each participant goes one after each other on the tissue or on the trapeze and cooperation work is rarely emphasized.
Acrobalance is still not very well known. This discipline is a bit more demanding to be learned, as acrobats always need to work together.

Acrobalance also requires a lot of body contact, which implies that participants have to establish a trust relationship between each other and also to feel self-confident. Consequently we chose to promote that discipline in particular for two main reasons: because of its aesthetic aspect on stage (which will add a lot to already existing performances) and also because it can be used in workshops with children as a tool to develop trust and cooperation and reduce exclusion in the post-conflict society.

A network of circus collectives from the Western Balkans is registered at the end of 2010. All of them have already contacts with local government (municipalities) and applied for local funding to develop their activities. They show a strong motivation to develop their practice in performing as well as in teaching skills to children and to a younger audience. Some of these collectives are also lobbying at a State level so that circus would be acknowledged as a artistic discipline eligible to get local funding etc, for example. Some others focus on teaching to a younger population circus skills and have sent proposal of policies to include circus skills in the schools curriculum. But they are still lacking of expertise and it will very beneficial for them to meet professional from abroad during the acrobalance convention.

In 2008, the first International Acrobatics Convention was organised by a German-Croatian collective on the island of Korčula, Croatia. In 2009 and 2010 the German organisers continued the convention close to Bordeaux (France). The participation fee almost doubled.
The convention was an occasion for European acrobats to spend a week, training acrobalance on the azure Croatian coast. The Croatian partners involved spend a lot of time volunteering, facilitating, cooking, etc. There was not much time left for them to actually profit from the content of the convention.

For the 2011 festival we focus on actually developing circus skills in the Balkans region. For this, we increase the presence of participants from the Balkans and enable them to spend as much time on the actual workshops as the European participants do, equally sharing the remaining chores. So we aim at 50/50 participants from Europe and the Balkans and we plan to reduce the participation fee for participants from the Balkans.

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