Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Drama/Theater and Perfomance Studies
Re-Imagining Animality: Contemporary French Circus and the Question of the Animal

With increased awareness about animal rights, the animal-based circus has dwindled while the animal-free circus has taken off. Yet, a new trend in the circus landscape has been set in motion by the most creative and experimental protagonists of the contemporary French circus scene. Baro D'Evel, Z-Machine, Rasposo, and Johan Le Guillerm among others, return to the question of the animal, both in direct human-animal encounters and as a metaphor. My dissertation shows that the return to the circus animal is motivated by a need to re-imagine the vexed history of human-animal relations under the big top. These circus artists explore different notions of animality by resituating the human as belonging to the animal continuum rather than existing apart from it. New performances confuse the certainty of anthropological difference. By creating place and space to face the animal-other, these circus practitioners probe the possibility that circus can be a site for ethical encounters beyond species boundaries. Furthermore, contemporary animal acts allow us to re-imagine the political sphere in non-anthropocentric terms. By addressing circus as a potential site where difference and distinctiveness are fostered, I ask if and how contemporary animal acts offer us a more complex understanding of a shared (more-than-human) world. My dissertation aims to produce new insights in the field of performance studies and animal studies by addressing the complex, diverse, and situated human-animal relations in contemporary circus. While attending to the problematic history of animal acts in circuses and the multiple ways in which human-animal relationships have been gendered, sexualized, and racialized in particular ways, my dissertation aims to explore the aesthetical, ethical, and political potential of contemporary animal acts by insisting that animality is not only a problem of the past, but also a seed that holds potential for new avenues of interspecies relations in the future.