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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK


College for clowns

Global fame beckons: Cirque du Soleil on a visit to London

Not many degree courses require applicants to have a fitness report from a physiotherapist and a doctor...

But the requirement is fundamental for those wanting to take the first UK course in circus practice, starting this autumn.

[ image: Candidates will specialise in a particular discipline]
Candidates will specialise in a particular discipline
The BA (Hons) Theatre Practice/Contemporary Circus course has been devised by The Circus Space, which has been training 90 aerial performers for the Millennium Dome, with The Central School of Speech and Drama.

It is an accelerated vocational degree course which will be studied in London over two, 45-week years, rather than the more usual three years. The organisers say this is "to ensure a sustained physical progression".

Circus Space spokesman Gerry Halliday said the intention was to equip students to work with existing performing arts companies, or to start their own.

Seventy-two people applied for the 20 places on offer in the first year. So far 15 have been offered places - 10 have accepted - and auditions are ongoing.

New audiences

The course recognised a change in circus life, Mr Halliday said.

"Traditionally training has been either within circus families, with skills handed on from generation to generation, or it has been people who have been determined - a vocational thing where they have been absolutely determined to become circus performers - and have in some form or other 'joined the circus'," he said.

"Things have changed really since we have had companies like Archaos, Circus of Horrors, and particularly Cirque du Soleil. They've really shaken up what people regard as the circus.

"Cirque du Soleil for instance is really about athleticism - taking an act to perfection, be it trampolining, gymnastics or trapeze. It's a different approach for new audiences."

Practical tests

In that sense the new course aims to put the UK on a world map. France has equivalents in several circus schools. There are the state schools in China and Russia, and latterly Canada with a school associated with Cirque du Soleil.

Students will be expected to develop a range of skills while specialising in a particular field such as trapeze, tightwire or clowning. But innovation is also to be encouraged, so people could be free to try to develop a new discipline.

Apart from physical skills they will also have to absorb such things as the history and business aspects of circus.

Assessment will be continuous but there are also key stages to be achieved, measured mainly through performances.

A decent medical is not the only requirement. Applicants also need a BTEC National Diploma in performing arts, circus, dance, or five good GCSEs, including English, or three GCSEs and two A Levels, or their equivalents.

Candidates also have to show they have what it takes to work as contemporary circus performers.

The Circus Space is the UK's only permanent circus training and production venue for professional and aspiring performers.

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