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The clowns and the canvas

Circus manifestations in the big cities are the object of a study

Fragments from circus exhibitions have been passing through our day to day in the big cities: groups of clowns arrive at the restaurants; jugglers, at the major intersections, street boys trying little tricks with tennis balls. “Circusizing” life in the city. Sadly nostalgic memories of the circus, in its spectacular gayety. Palhaços, the excellent work of Mário Fernando Bolognesi, situates us very well in relation to such questions. From reading it, one would say that these are threadbare manifestations of the circus in the city, which lack the canvas itself, that is, the very circus. Lacking to us, the spectators, is the inclination towards the spectacle, capable of making the attention of those under the canvas do somersaults.

In fact, what this research makes it possible to perceive is that it is the circus that gives a meaning to the figure of the clown and organicity to their relationship with the other circus exhibitions. And the circus, following its historical transformations, nowadays seems to show the tendency of subjugating itself to the world of the market, in its rigid values of excellence and beauty, and to lose its potency, in a process of sedentarizing, above all in the big cities. Traveling over the country, though, the author leads us to the finding that the circus, not only the big ones, remains alive and conserves its essence.

As Bolognesi says, the subject matter of the circus is the body, sublime, like those of gymnasts and acrobats, or grotesque, like clowns. From amazement, from fascination with the superhuman maneuvers, the spectator passes to laughter, produced by the relaxation and by the impression of superiority given by the experience of, after all, being more than that human being, the clown. It is therefore in the unceasing play between the sublime and the grotesque that, according to the author, the emotion of the circus spectacle is produced.

Coupling a concern for locating historically the origins and the development of the forms of the circus and of the clown with an interest in discussing, following several paths, the meaning of these phenomena in anthropological, cultural and artistic terms, the author does some valuable research, seeking to locate the specificities and transformations that are being incorporated into Brazilian circuses, above all the small and medium sized ones, which in great measure are characterized as theater-circuses. We discovered, perusing his analyses of the staging of melodramas taken to the small circuses, that the same game takes place there: the entry of the clown makes the sublime and the grotesque, fear and laughter, drama and comedy act out their contrasts.

What one finds is the fact that the spectacle is not aimed at intellectualism or to moral improvement. “It has as the primordial basis of the scene the body, whether in the lines of a superb acrobatic body, or the grotesque one of a clown”, writes Bolognesi. Its artists do not present “internalnesses”: “They are pure externalized body, sublime or grotesque, which is carried out or is extinguished in the same dimension as its gesture”. The action of the clowns, in repeat performances that parody the very exhibitions of circus excellence, in appearances in twos or threes, playing against other in mime or in words, or even in short stagings of the theater-circuses, explores, whether in mime, or in the double effects of words, the emergency of the body, in its grotesque, undisciplined, vivacious dimension.

The circus therefore brings with it an inherent dimension of the alternation of powers and of emotions, with perfection and imperfection, magic and incapacity, flights to the heights and falls right down to the ground play against each other. There inside, reality is as if it were reverted into its laws, but, at the same time, in this alternation of exhibitions, something of the laws of reality is revealed. That is what is expressed in what has historically constituted a typical pair of clowns, in which antagonistic types play together, one a dominator and the other dominated.

The conflict that is staged there has a political dimension, which is irradiated over the most humdrum terrain of life, through incapacities and virtues of the body. Clowns in the restaurant Jugglers at the traffic lights. One could indeed cap it by saying that Brazil is a big circus. One has to agree with the author, though, that something essential is dissolved in the absence of the canvas: the potency of a fairy-like and contagious imagination, which faces death at each movement and with laughter at each victory of life. In the spectacle outside the canvas, we carry out mere attempts at our being spectators, faced by the attempts for getting it right by the poor boys at the little traffic lights. Which of the kinds of uneasiness is the more potent?

Palhaços [Clowns]
Mário Fernando Bolognesi
Editora Unesp
293 pages
R$ 29.00