interviews
Interview
Circus

Peggy Donck has taken over as head of the Centre National des Arts du Cirque

I was lucky enough to be there when circus arts became an artistic discipline. There was a lot of emulation, it was very innovative, and everything was still being invented.

After nearly twenty-five years in the world of contemporary circus, Peggy Donck has just taken over as head of the prestigious Centre National des Arts du Cirque (CNAC). 

The Institut français is in close dialogue with the CNAC in the context of training projects carried out internationally. 

Updated on 21/04/2022

5 min

Image
Peggy Donck
Crédits
Peggy Donck © Marie Garcia Bardon

How did you discover the world of the circus? 

I first encountered contemporary circus at the CNAC. I had never heard of it before. I was studying law and was destined to become a barrister when I completely changed my path.  When the 11th year group of the CNAC founded the AOC collective, I decided to join them. Since then, I have been working with circus companies and collectives for twenty-five years: AOC, Un Loup pour l'homme, Sisters, the XY company... 

 

What does this discipline mean to you? 

What I like about the circus is its high standards, but also the imaginary worlds it conjures up and the aesthetics it develops. It is also at the heart of other artistic disciplines. 

I was lucky enough to start working in this world in 1999, just as the Ministry of Culture declared the year 2000 as the year of the circus arts.  This was absolutely brilliant, because there aren't that many artistic disciplines that come into being, and I was lucky enough to be there at the start. There was a lot of emulation, it was very innovative, and everything was still being invented. There weren't that many of us and we all knew each other. We were building something together. 

It is also a quasi-French specificity, which allowed us to export a lot. It's great to experience this new wave, new aesthetics and new disciplines. 

 

You have just been appointed director of the Centre National des Arts du Cirque. What does this appointment mean to you? 

I am delighted. I have loved supporting all the companies I have worked with, they were extraordinary human adventures, fantastic slices of life. But I decided a few years ago to apply for the position of director of the CNAC, after the departure of the previous director, Gérard Fasoli. I wasn't impatient, but I had a real desire. It was really this place, tied to emerging creativity, that interested me. I also had the particularity of having always supported graduates of French and European schools. I therefore knew their greatest qualities but also their shortcomings. And it is my experience, my knowledge of the artistic and professional milieu and my knowledge of aesthetics that I now seek to bring to the CNAC. It is a unique place, which combines the School, a Resource and Research centre, and lifelong learning. This triptych gives it a very unique strength. 

The challenge of digitisation, which will also become an issue in the circus world. Societal contexts, linked to the climate crisis, will also become central. In fact, everything that influences society also influences artistic creation.

Could you describe the specific role of this institution in the circus landscape? 

The CNAC was created in 1985, under the impetus of Jack Lang. It started with a desire on the part of the public authorities to create a national circus school. A few years later, Bernard Turin was named director and he brought together many disciplines, such as theatre and dance, by calling on renowned choreographers and directors. 

The new circus, which appeared thirty years ago with Archaos or Cirque Plume, gave way to what has been called contemporary circus, whose birth year was in 1995 with the show Le Cri du caméléon, directed by the choreographer Josef Nadj. And it was at the CNAC that this show was born, in the 7th year group. 

In the French and international landscape, the CNAC has always had a unique place as a pioneer and innovator in terms of aesthetics. 

More than 350 student artists, representing 35 nationalities, have learned their trade here and are now major players on the international scene. 

 

What will be the main thrusts of your mandate at the head of the CNAC? 

Today, many other schools in France and throughout the world have appeared and are competing with us: we are no longer in a position of hegemony and that's fine. So I've come to a point when it's important for each school to cultivate and assert its identity. Each school has its own style and students choose to come to the CNAC for their educational project and the way it is carried out. 

I arrived here in a specific context. On the one hand, Covid forced the school to close and pushed us to recruit students by videoconferencing. On the other hand, #balancetoncirque, the #metoo of the circus, began here. My primary mission is therefore to rediscover links, dialogue and synergies, and above all to put the students back at the centre. To welcome them and support them in their singularity, and also to encourage the weaving of a relationship with the artists and actors in the field. I also want to put the students in front of audiences as much as possible. It is important that when they move on to professional careers, they find doors already open to them. 

 

In your opinion, what are the major changes that await the circus world in years to come? 

Like all the arts, there is the challenge of digitisation, which will also become an issue in the circus world. Societal contexts, linked to the climate crisis, will also become central. In fact, everything that influences society also influences artistic creation. 

Furthermore, contemporary circus is about twenty-five years old, and many of our former circus students have moved on to directing. They offer and will continue to bring renewal. 

L'institut français, LAB