Replacing injured horses, cross-dressing and dust: modernist circus technologies in Asia



Publication Details

Tait, P. "Replacing injured horses, cross-dressing and dust: modernist circus technologies in Asia." Studies In Theatre And Performance 38 .2 (2018): 149-164.


Horse performers were replaced by machines demonstrating the wonders of electricity and cinema on the third circus tour of Asia by the well-known equestrian, Clarke family in 1915. Circus was part of the wider economic shift away from equine capital. The analysis considers leading horse acts in early modernist circus and their continuing popularity with the multi-racial Asian audiences, in relation to technological change and the socio-economic legacies of European colonial dominance in Asia. Four out of six horses died on the Clarke's first tour of colonial Asia, an exceptionally high mortality rate and three died on the second tour, and this article argues that a high rate of horse injury and mortality complicates a claim that the shift to scientific display in the 1915 entertainment was simply reflecting progressive modernisation or the shortage of horses at the beginning of World War One. While the 2015 replacement of horses provides a literal demonstration of the scientific shift from horse power to electric power during the modernist (anthropocene) era, it additionally prefigures the displacement of the live animal with filmed imagery in entertainment. International ship travel continued to hold considerable physical risk for the horse performers, which meant it posed economic risks for the circus aesthetic.

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