The New Circus in Lithuania

By Ugnė Kačkauskaitė 2021 08 19
"Try Again" by "Taigi cirkas" (artists - Elena Kosovec, Konstantinas Kosovec). Photo by Dmitrijus Matvejevas

'The position of circus in society has always been unstable: either it was marginalised, or it was regarded as a high-class art.'[1] Whenever we discuss traditional and contemporary circus, a distinction is often drawn, and the question is asked, what should be referred to as the new circus, and what was the circus we were used to seeing in Lithuania throughout the 20th century? According to Gildas Aleksa, the artistic director of the international contemporary circus festival Cirkuliacija, the creators of contemporary circus borrow many ideas from traditional circus, which has been familiar to Lithuanian audiences for a long time. Therefore, we should not look for a disjunction between the two. Renida Baltrušaitytė, researching the body of the circus artist, claims that 'a comparison of traditional circus and contemporary circus shows the use of animals to be one of the main differences between them. Contemporary circus is usually recognised for its decision not to use animals, even though there are some exceptions to this rule.'[2]

Contemporary, or new circus, with a history of almost four decades, is often considered the youngest area in the field of the performing arts. However, some countries have already established a firm tradition in contemporary circus and can offer many captivating circus productions. These countries include Canada, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Finland, with the latter attracting more and more attention in recent years.

Any effort to grasp the origins and roots of Lithuanian contemporary/new circus shows that its development was primarily affected by international festivals of the performing arts that took place in Lithuania. Naujojo Cirko Savaitgalis (New Circus Weekend), the country's first international contemporary circus festival, has been organised in Vilnius since 2006. From 2021 renamed as HELIUM. The international contemporary circus festival Cirkuliacija (Circulation) was launched in 2015 in Kaunas. Each year, New Circus Weekend presents a special artistic programme, inviting prominent artists and the most interesting names in contemporary circus to Lithuania. The festival aims to present a variety of forms of contemporary circus. Meanwhile, the mission of Cirkuliacija is slightly different: its primary objective being the formation of a socially responsible art trend in Lithuania. Cirko Sapiens, the first contemporary circus centre in Lithuania, was established along with the festival in 2020.

It all started with the LIFE international theatre festival.[3] In 1998, the festival offered an unusual programme, with circus and acrobatic elements aimed at a wide audience.

New Circus Weekend was initiated by Audronis Imbrasas, who at the time was the head of the Lithuanian Dance Information Centre (LDIC). From 2015 to 2018, the management of the festival was entrusted to Gintarė Masteikaitė, the current head of the LDIC. During this period, the bar for the contemporary circus programme was raised significantly; each year the festival presented powerful contemporary circus productions. The festival is a basis for introducing boundless new circus acts to Lithuanian audiences. Along with other initiatives by the LDIC aimed at broadening the appeal of new circus, workshops are held during the festival for critics and professionals in the performing arts.

Cirkuliacija was launched at the initiative of the theatre director Gildas Aleksa (and organised by the Teatronas association). The format of the festival targets residents of Kaunas and its region. It pays much attention to circus education. Certain parts of the programme are presented in smaller towns in Lithuania. There are also several other Lithuanian festivals that feature contemporary circus productions in their programme, namely the International Street Theatre Festival SPOT in Vilnius, and the International Performing Arts Festival ConTempo, in Kaunas.

Festivals were the main factors that encouraged Lithuanian creators to discover contemporary circus. Although several circus schools now exist in Lithuania (Šakiai Circus School, Visaginas Acrobatic Sports School and the Baltija Circus Art Academy, as well as the promising educational activities carried out by Cirko Sapiens), only a few dozen contemporary circus professionals and individuals are currently working in this field. The main reason for this is that there is no course in circus or a subject option offered in schools of higher education. According to Aleksa, the problems start to emerge as soon as a festival is over: a viewer cannot be invited to study the subject, and neither is it possible to see any productions after the festival is over.[4]

Since there is not a special stage for circus, performing arts festivals are the best platform for presenting works by new circus artists from Lithuania, featuring mostly individual artists. According to Monika Citvaraitė-Lansbergienė, a researcher into the development of circus in Lithuania, Lithuanian circus productions are rarely presented at festivals. 'Since 2006, seven acts by Lithuanian artists have been presented in Vilnius, and three at the Cirkuliacija festival. It is claimed that there is no circus production in Lithuania of which the quality would justify inclusion in international festivals.'[5]

The Contemporary Circus Association was established in 2018 at the initiative of Elena Kosovec, Marija Baranauskaitė and Konstantinas Kosovec, proving that new circus is gathering momentum in Lithuania, and turning into a solid and increasingly well-recognised branch of the performing arts. The association seeks to develop and promote contemporary circus, form an active community, and create an environment in Lithuania for professional contemporary circus artists to work and perfect their art.[6]

When speaking about the creators of Lithuanian circus, it is impossible not to mention the names of the founders of the association: Konstantinas Kosovec is a universal contemporary circus artist, who has been practising various disciplines since 2008, but is mostly involved in aerials. He started his career in fire shows, specialising in juggling and stick manipulation. Since 2007, he has led the team of fire fakirs Ugnies Ženklai (Fire Signs). Kosovec trained at important circus schools in Spain, Italy and Canada. In 2016, he established the contemporary circus organisation Taigi Cirkas (Circus It Is) together with Elena Kosovec. In 2014, his piece 1854 was presented at New Circus Weekend, and in 2017 he and Elena Kosovec presented a production with Taigi Cirkas, the spectacle Try Again for aerials and ropes, at the same festival.

Marija Baranauskaitė first became interested in contemporary dance, and only later turned to circus, studying the speciality in Belgium and France. She is an actor and artistic director with the organisation Red Noses Clowndoctors. She is interested in the clown genre, and her works have been presented at both contemporary circus festivals in Lithuania. In 2017, she and the Wet Kiss Company (Belgium) presented the piece Coffeeklatch at the Cirkuliacija festival. In 2018, the clown-based solo performance

The Sofa Project was presented at both festivals. In 2019, a performance of the sketch Picnic opened New Circus Weekend. It was based on acrobatics, physical comedy and object manipulation. Džiugas Kunsmanas, another proponent of new circus, also took part in the project.

Kunsmanas studied acting, and later discovered dance and acrobatics, going on to study at the Flic Circus School in Italy. In 2020, together with Adrian Carlo Bibiano, Kunsmanas depicted the search for non-verbal contact between an acrobat and a dancer in the performance Where do I Connect? at the ConTempo festival. He also lectures at the Cirko Sapiens centre, teaching acrobatics, handstands and circus acting.

One of the earliest new circus works by Lithuanian artists is Mantas Markevičius' production Aš esu... (I am...), by the contemporary circus company Antigravitacija (presented in 2010 at New Circus Weekend). Markevičius became interested in juggling in 2000, and later began exploring new circus. In 2011, he created the first Lithuanian juggling performance Stebuklingas Medis (The Magic Tree).

For a long time, Monika Neverauskaitė was recognised as the only Cyr wheel artist in Lithuania. She was the first Lithuanian to graduate from a circus high school. Before that, she completed a course in Norwegian folk dancing, and studied circus art in Denmark, the Netherlands and France. Since 2018, she has worked with the French circus company L'MRG'ée. In 2014, she presented the piece Open Stage at New Circus Weekend, and in 2017 she presented her diploma work from Le Lido circus school, the spectacle Aš Myliu Tave, Bet... (I Love You, But...), at the Cirkuliacija festival. All her appearances rely on the use of the Cyr wheel.

Kęstas Matusevičius, another contemporary circus creator, started his circus career with fire shows. He graduated from the SaSak professional circus school in Finland in 2020. His circus disciplines include partner acrobatics, acro-dance, clowning and juggling. After graduating, he founded Kanta Company, together with fellow students Aino Mäkipää and Lyla Goldman. Matusevičius teaches acrobatics at the Cirko Sapiens contemporary circus centre. In 2019, he and his coursemates presented the piece Nutikimai (Experiences) at the Cirkuliacija festival.

Giedrė Degutytė is another name to mention in the context of circus. A creator, performer and researcher of circus, clowning and physical theatre, she studied in England, where she discovered the practice of hula-clowning. She explores clowning as a potential dramatic means within the circus context. In her solo production Apie lanko sukimą (On Hula Hooping), which was presented at New Circus Weekend in 2019, she explored the relationship between the performer, the hula hoop and the audience.

This article covers several prominent artists who are shaping the direction of new circus in Lithuania. However, we should not forget other important initiatives from the last decade. In 2009, the puppeteer Kamilė Kondrotaitė and the actor Liudas Vyšniauskas founded the clown theatre studio Dulidu. In 2010, Indrė Vileitė and Viltautė Žemelytė came up with the idea of using artistic means to cheer up daily life for people in hospitals, which resulted in the Red Noses project. The most recent initiative is the Contemporary Intellectual Clowning Art Theatre, established by Žilvinas Beniušis and Severina Špakovska. This creative space combines clown genre performances, humour education projects and creators of comedy. There are many other initiatives and names that are not mentioned here, showing that the number of artists who are interested and professionally involved in the activities of new circus in Lithuania is steadily increasing.


[1] Baltrušaitytė, Renida. Cirko artisto kūnas cirko istorijoje. In: Kultūra ir Visuomenė. Socialinių tyrimų žurnalas ('The Body of the Circus Artist in Circus History', in: 'Culture and Society' social research magazine) 2020, p. 31

[2] Ibid, p. 43.

[3] The international theatre festivals that took place in Vilnius in 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2000. The festival programmes were arranged by the theatre researcher and writer Rūta Vanagaitė.

[4], accessed on 20.06.2021.

[5] Citvaraitė, Monika. Šiuolaikinis Cirkas: Žanro Samprata ir Plėtra Lietuvoje (Contemporary Circus: The Concept and Development of the Genre in Lithuania), MA thesis. Kaunas: Vytauto Didžiojo universitetas, p. 55.

[6], accessed on 15.06.2021.