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Minimalism and Movement

Although discussion of circus costume brings to mind the spectacular, over-the-top fantastical looks pictured on the previous pages, this is not the only type of clothing worn for performance. Increasingly popular, the use of streetwear and garments from the circus artists' own closets are incorporated into performance settings. Not only is this an economical way to source a costume, it is indicative of the evolution of tastes and aesthetic ideals in circus arts. Minimalist clothing sets the tone so that the audience is focused on the artist and their movements, rather than the additional layer of the costume, and is often seen in contemporary circus performances. While each have their own strengths, in this view the emphasis is on simple base garments that allow the artists to move freely in the execution of their performances, rather than the show-stopping dazzle of the traditional circus aesthetic. Circus educator, instigator, and advocate Amy Cohen describes the phenomenon of minimalist circus costume as rooted in the needs of the performer, where the garments worn are selected to enhance the act by providing for functional considerations such as movement and protection:

"The reason for minimalism in costume presently is often to optimize the technical prowess and artistic expression of the circus artist in relationship to their apparatus. As circus arts vocabulary grows and changes, adaptations in costumes that lean towards minimalist can reflect the changing dynamics of the artists physical connection with their apparatus and the technology of their movements."

Just as circus practices and aesthetics have evolved over time, so too have the technologies of fabric production and the movement needs of the circus artists, who have adapted their acts to include skills and tricks that may not have been possible while wearing earlier styles of circus costume. The artists featured on this page demonstrate clearly that the magic of the circus doesn't depend on the aesthetics alone - it is found in the disciplines and skills exercised with or without apparatus, insistent in its existence in an evolving world.

Kleber Berto, Capoeira and AcroDance

Kleber Berto is a multi-talented circus artist specializing in Capoeira. Hailing from Brazil, Kleber has performed in such shows as Cirque du Soleil's KÀ and Toruk, and Franco Dragone's House of Dancing Water and La Perle. In the video below, he performs a Capoeira-based acro dance wearing a simple pair of distressed white denim trousers. This garment, while performing as a costume here, is a popular style in everyday fashion: skinny jeans with stretch enable the wearer to move more freely than traditional denim. This movement is evidenced by Kleber's fantastic movements in this featured video.

You can follow Kleber on Instagram here: @klbacrobata

Rena Dimes, Contortion

Rena Dimes is a contortionist, aerialist, and dancer who has worked with such companies as Cirque Us and AIDA Cruises. Her dynamic performance style rings of grace, and her use of a minimalist costume in the video below demonstrates the way a garment can enhance, rather than overshadow, movement in performance. Rena wears a two piece set in black of a bra top and shorts, which allow for range of movement and extension of the torso (particularly evidenced by her contortion skills). Garments like this are the foundation of activewear, popular in gyms, dance studios, and training centers, and can be used in a range of dressed scenarios.

Sorrell Nielsen, Tightwire

Sorrell Nielsen is a Tightwire artist who has worked with such companies as Cirque Us and Circus Smirkus, whose dance on the wire belies intensive training that make her movements appear effortless. In this video, Sorrell wears a cropped, short-sleeved shirt and midi-length skirt, and a yellow scarf is highlighted in contrast to the neutral setting and garment color. The clothing provides protection (seen when she holds the wire under her arm) and movement, and is the kind of outfit that could be worn from performance to daily life. Garments such as these demonstrate that basic aesthetics (such as the texture of the lace and the drape of the skirt) can combine with function (skin coverage to protect against abrasion, and movement through stretch fabrics) in a simple yet elegant form that complements the performance.

Ring to Runway: Minimalism and Movement

While not inspired by circus, the Yeezy Autumn/Winter 2015 collaboration between Kanye West and adidas held the spectacle of a circus show: models standing in rows, clad in distressed everyday garments and fitted, knit activewear such as body stockings, briefs, bras, and crop tops. Developed under the purview of activewear giant adidas, there is an undeniable connection between the clothing designed for the collection and the possibilities of movement. In the video examples above of circus artists Kleber Berto, Rena Dimes, and Sorrell Nielsen, the costuming is focused on movement and features a minimalistic aesthetic that is at once subtle and resonant. As circus costume evolves from the grandiose spectacle of traditional tent shows, and circus arts classes become more accessible to the average population, it is no surprise to see the prevalence of costumes that focus less on the grandeur and more on the movement and form of the artists. In this evolution the fantasy of circus becomes more accessible, just as the 2015 Yeezy runway feels more familiar to the average viewer than the spectacle of haute couture: the grit and distressing of the clothes coupled with the clean lines of the body stockings (commonly used in artistic sport such as dance, physical theatre, and circus arts) and other base garments could easily be pictured in any contemporary circus performance, or found in any person’s closet.

The garments showcased in the Yeezy fashion event are demonstrative of the types of minimalist garments that can be worn by circus artists seeking alternatives to traditional costume for their performances. These clothes need to be able to move with the performer and enable rather than restrict range of motion. In showing fashion beyond the spectacle of haute couture, the designers also provide the audience with a layer of resonance: the escapist fantasy of circus persists for the viewer, strengthened by the familiarity of seeing minimalist clothing of the everyday on the fashion runway as well as in the circus ring.