Animal Studies Journal


It is the aim of this article to critically assess the (re)valorisation of nonhuman animals in contemporary circus. Though contemporary circus has declared itself to be an ‘animal-free’ artform, animals have been increasingly reappearing in contemporary circus performances over the past few years. In opposition to traditional circus, neither the presentation of the talents of nonhuman animals nor the demonstration of human power and dominance are the objective, rather, contemporary circus attempts to create critical and experimental artworks that function as social commentaries on the relation between humans and nonhuman animals.

This article is divided into three parts. The first provides an overview of the staging strategies of nonhuman animals in traditional circus, as well as a contextual map of the renewed interest in animal performances in contemporary circus. The second is an analysis of the contemporary circus performance Dresse-toi (2018) by Cie Equinoctis, which sets out to counter the human dominance of animals in performance through the lens of the nonhuman turn. The third part reflects on further ways to decentre the human being and the anthropocentric telos in circus.