Visceral and Sensory Circus Bodies: Further Issues in Identity Politics

Professor Peta Tait
To add a paper, Login.

How might visceral and sensory responses to body-based performance impact on and shape perceptions of identity? Trapeze acts in circus are recognized globally. They have traditionally presented performing bodies and their musculature in ways that both collapse and yet also reconfigure the identity separations of gendered and racialized bodies (Tait 1996 (Butler 1990). Interchanges between multiple, moving, kinaesthetic, sensory bodies in the phenomenal field mimic social exchanges.

From the traditional American Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey to the new Cirque du Soleil productions, circus provides a rich field for an analysis of hugely variable bodies in cultural representation, where nationality and gender are malleable. For example, in the 1920s the world's greatest wire-walker, Con Colleano, and his sister, Winnie Colleano, one of the world's leaders in fast, dangerous feats became the stars of Ringling Brothers and performed as Spaniards and Hawaiians at a time when their Aboriginal Australian background was socially unacceptable — Con even performed for Hitler. Their performances offered visceral thrills that seemed to out manoeuvre body identity.

Above all circus bodies in action invite sensory engagement. The visceral and sensory possibilities of body-to-body(ies) perception in circus might be usefully understood within Maurice Merleau-Ponty's (1995) ideas of the fleshed visible and the reversibility of the phenomenal field. Accordingly, an analysis of trapeze performance underscored by ideas of phenomenological sensory experience in spectatorship developed within cinema studies (Sobchack 1992; Williams 1995; Williams 1999) has implications for interpreting identity as a visceral, sensory process in the wider social context. The pleasures of viewing aerial action arise within the starts and spurts of sensory engagement with external motion, as visceral leaps and jumps, recognisably also inducing as elation and delight.

Keywords: Visceral and Sensory Circus Bodies
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication, Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness, Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Professor Peta Tait

Lecturer, Theatre and Drama La Trobe University Bundoora Australia 3086, N/A

Professor Peta Tait books include "Performing Emotions: Gender, Bodies, Spaces in Chekhov's Drama and Stanislavski's theatre (2002)", "Converging Realities: Feminism in Australian Theatre" (1994) and "Original Women's Theatre" (1993). She is co-editor with Dr Elizabeth Schafer of "Australian Women's Drama: Texts and Feminisms" (1997, reprinted 2000), and editor of "Body Show/s: Australian Viewings of Live Performance" (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000). Her next book is "Circus Bodies: Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance" (forthcoming Routledge).

Ref: H05P0339