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Interview with Jean-Marc Broqua from La Grainerie in relation with Circus Now platform (March 3-5)

Interview with Jean-Marc Broqua, Secretary General and Director of International Relations at La Grainerie, an organization located in Toulouse, in the southwest of France, dedicated to contemporary circus. La Grainerie will participate in Circus Now: International Contemporary Circus Exposure 2017 (March 3-5) at NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts, with, among others, the artist Nacho Flores representing La Grainerie. 

Hello Jean-Marc,

Nicole Birmann Bloom (N.B.B.): The organization La Grainerie contributes to the development of a network dedicated to contemporary circus arts in Europe. Who are your main partners in Europe? How are you organized to support emerging artists? How do you find them?

J-M Broqua (J-M.B.): In 2006-2007, we at La Grainerie decided to develop international partnerships with organization similar to ours elsewhere in Europe, such as La Central del Circ, an organization dedicated to creation in Barcelona (Spain), Subtopia near Stockholm (Sweden), Cirko & Circus Info (Finland),  L’Espace Catastrophe in Brussels (Belgium), and also Cirqueon in Prague (Czech Republic). Now we work with at least twenty organizations in Europe. 

Supporting emerging artists and developing their careers is one of the priorities of La Grainerie.  We work hand in hand with Le Lido, the school of circus arts located in Toulouse. Together we have developed several programs for artistic research, residencies, and also a project incubator called Le Studio de Toulouse/PACT. We share this approach with our European and international partners.  Compagnie Oktobre (seen in January 2016 in New York) and the artists Nacho Flores (performing in Circus Now on March 5) are good examples of the impact of our action both at the local and international levels.

Finding and selecting artists is a long selection process taking place between schools and our creative labs.  For international projects, we arrange selection committees with representatives from each European partnering institution.

N.B.B.: In March, the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts will present the Circus Now Platform (March 3-5) dedicated to Contemporary Circus developed by Adam Wolley. Nacho Flores, who trained at La Grainerie, is one of the artists who will take part in  it. Could you tell us more about Nacho? 

J-M.B.: Nacho Flores is a good example. He is an artist who attended each step of the process, i.e. from the school to the market place. He was first  discovered by Le Lido and  joined the school. He, then, had access to the research workshop and touring network of  the Pyrenées region. These preliminary phases allowed him to enrich his language and build short performances. It was at the beginning of the last phase that we  decided his work was advanced (mature) enough to develop a project, and we offered him to enter the Studio/PACT program.

At Studio/PACT, Nacho received additional artistic and strategic advice for his project  along with financial support, residency time, and access to a larger network of presenters. Finally,  he was chosen to receive support from of CircusNext, a program that identifies and supports artists who are determined to develop new circus project in Europe.  

The combination of all these  opportunities allowed him to detail and nuance his project artistically as well as technically. 

N.B.B.: You started to build some connection with North America, with Quebec first, and more particularly with  La Tohu, in Montréal, and then with the United States where initiatives for contemporary circus are still  burgeoning. What are the main differences you noticed? What do you plan to develop some partnerships?

J-M.B.: There are major differences, mostly between the training systems,  the kinds of support given to artists for their creative process, and in  the economic environments for the arts.  While my remarks below could be more nuanced (I don't want to make any generalizations), these are the differences I noticed: 

In Canada, the circus schools offer training that produces highly skilled artists (techniques and performance). Very few circus schools propose such a level of expertise. 

In Europe, most of the time, the strategies of the schools in Europe – and in particular at Le Lido and La Grainerie – tend to prioritize the independence and individuality of the artist whether he/she is a student or the author of a project.  For example, advisers will look at the dramaturgy of the performance and offer guidance more than directives to  the artist.

In Canada, the presence of large companies and the  ability to organize events well supported financially lead the artists to prioritize and present their skills  rather than to focus more on research and development of their own creation. 

So, the ecosystems are different, but this difference seems to me to be a richness, a space to build projects.

Regarding the United States, we noticed a strong interest towards contemporary circus.  At present, we plan to develop a project that would be first based on dialogues between professionals, public, and artists. They would come from the contemporary circus, visual arts and dance fields and from Europe, South and North America. Audience members will be invited too. We plan these brainstorming sessions in Europe first.

N.B.B.: Most of the time, the training of the artists play a determining role in the creation of bridges between France and the United. What would you recommend to strengthen the invitation of young American artists to join contemporary circus schools in France?

J-M.B.: How to promote progressive societies if the people who study, create, and work stay at home and don’t travel. We need to understand, share our imagination and our cultural resource. The mobility of the artists is the key. In light of this, an international strategy is indispensable in all artistic education. 

I will use our model here in Toulouse. Each year, the school, Le Lido, welcomes artists from Europe and South America; their presence enriches the training process, the other artists,  and the people of Toulouse.

There are few artists from the United States at the school and there are several reasons for this lack: Contemporary circus arts are not very developed in the United States and there is a deficit in communication tools from us. Also Montréal being so near attracts talents from the United States that would otherwise consider France. I would also highlight the artistic and aesthetic differences between the United States and Europe. 

More efforts in communication, more cooperation between art schools… Cooperation is one of the keys to mobility. This is why I’m deeply motivated to  develop of international projects and share methods, ideas, visions, and dreams. The presence for two years in a row, of two circus companies who grew from our structure at the Circus Now platform, is part of this strategy.

N.B.B.: A last question: Why Toulouse?

J-M.B.: The region of Toulouse, called Occitanie, has an amazing ecosystem which is very favorable to contemporary circus. There  are more than 500 artists and 120 companies  headed by prominent artists such as Baro d’Evel Cirk Company and Compagnie 111-Aurelien Bory. With the development of the circus arts school Le Lido, over the years this became a large artistic network. There is also a preparatory school – the school Balthazar – in Montpellier, and universities that invest in research and training (of ?) in two of the majors cities of the region. After graduation, artists prefer to stay or  otherwise keep strong links with the region because working conditions are among the best in the world.  There is, of course, La Grainerie, but also two national centers for circus arts (Pôles Nationaux des Arts du Cirque): la Verrerie, in Alès, and CIRCa in  Auch. The latter coordinates one of the most important festivals in Europe each fall, along with the platform L’Occitanie Fait son Cirque in Avignon.

The cooperation between all these organizations is one of the most dynamic in Europe.

The ecosystem they belong to carries on a singular aesthetic vision for circus with values based on openness, solidarity, the defense of authorship, development of dramaturgy, and poetry with a strong accent on multidisciplinary projects.   One more thing to add: This network was preceded by activism in the 80s. At the origin of each major institution, you will find an association or a non-professional school (like in Toulouse and Auch). This passion for circus arts is alive, resilient and extremely creative. Every day, it keeps reaching out the people, communities, and it builds relations with other economic and social sectors of activity.


Interview with Jean-Marc Broqua by Nicole Birmann Bloom, Program Officer, Performing Arts, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, New York (February 2017)