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Contemporary circus: evolution of circus and variety

What is Contemporary Circus?

Contemporary circus, or Cirque Nouveau, is a young genre of performing arts developed in the 1970s in France. The genre is an exciting, independent art form defined by its willingness to blur genre boundaries  that redefines traditional circus.

 The genre thrives on its diversity and aim to test artistic and physical boundaries. Old traditions are broken and elements of acrobatics merge effortlessly with theatre, music, dance, new media and the visual arts. The result is an unbelievably diverse stage experience that shows that circus can be much more than just colourful entertainment. While traditional circus is all about creating a spectacle and places its focus on presenting incredible artistic feats, established circus techniques in contemporary circus are no longer solely a matter of performing, but are also a means of artistic expression for the performers.

The urge to draw inspiration from other art forms and genres is reflected in the variety of names for contemporary circus: nouveau cirque, new circus and cirque actuel all refer to a genre that wishes to retain and expand its own creative freedom. Contemporary circus takes the liberty of defining its focus and its possibilities itself. It blossoms by questioning conventions, pushing the boundaries and constantly trying out new ideas. 

The CHAMÄLEON is the only theatre in the German-speaking world that shows productions of this dynamic art form exclusively and is, thus, a pioneer, innovator and promoter of contemporary circus in Germany and Europe.

To experience for yourself the fascination of contemporary circus, visit us at the CHAMÄLEON Theatre Berlin and see what shows are currently running.


CHAMÄLEON Productions, as the artistic creative agency of the theatre, pursues the goal of offering a platform to contemporary circus in Germany. It initiates an international exchange between artists and cultural workers, and brings the most successful creative artists within the international circus scene to Berlin. The CHAMÄLEON, by presenting two main shows a year, is able to ensure a consistently high creative and technical level. The establishment’s artistic aim remains to keep reinventing itself. After each run, the CHAMÄLEON changes its colour in order to bring a real adventure onto the stage for the next premiere. Once again completely different, once again only here, once again only now. Promise? Promise!

Methodology and characteristics of New circus

Contemporary circus is based on a comprehensive form of staging that centres on acrobatics, yet does not see any boundaries between genres. It makes use of other art forms and creative forms of expression. Every show has a basic idea that is reflected in its direction, design and presentation. 

The artists work in an ensemble and not as individual artists, as is typical of classic circus and variety. The artistic work is secondary to the director’s dramatic concept across all creative levels. The result is evening shows that are produced and performed in a similar manner to a musical or a play. Every show is, thus, unique and a recognisable brand. 

Well-known representatives of new circus

The most well-known representatives of contemporary circus include companies such as Cirque du Soleil, Cirkus Cirkör, Circa, Cirk La Putyka and many more. Internationally, festivals such as the Montreal Completement Cirque, UP! in Brussels, NY CIRKUS in Copenhagen, FUTURE CIRCUS in Turku, Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris and, naturally, the FRINGE Festival in Edinburgh have further developed contemporary circus into a multi-layered performing art. In Germany, traditional circus and classic variety, in particular, have long been given great importance in the field of performance art. However, popular festivals in the contemporary circus scene have also been increasingly boosting awareness of this genre for many years. Whether at CIRQ’OULEUR in Herne, the European Youth Circus in Wiesbaden, the Berlin Circus Festival, La Strada in Bremen or Tanztagen Potsdam: contemporary circus is increasingly presenting itself in Germany as an exciting main act that is attracting more and more attention through its deliberate aim to be different.

No guarantee of completeness.