Reinventing the circus


Start a conversation about the circus in Canada and someone will inevitably bring up Cirque du Soleil. But Canada, and particularly Quebec, which is home to over 20 circus companies, has become a beacon for circus arts as a whole. Canadian circuses attract artists and performers from across the country, and around the world.

“The circus business is big and very competitive internationally,” says Patrice Aubertin, SSHRC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Circus Arts at the École nationale de cirque in Montréal. “For the Montréal area alone, the economic impact of the circus industry represents up to $850 million in revenue annually.”

Over the past 25 years, the demands of circus arts have become more and more complex, with the artists feeling pressure to keep things fresh and exciting. In many cases, this means exploring new ways of working alongside technology—whether mechanical, immersive, interactive or educational. As a result, teaching practices have continuously evolved, and circuses have increased their collaboration with industry partners.

SSHRC Research Chair in circus arts

Quebec’s circus scene has become a creative, entrepreneurial and cultural force. Aubertin’s innovative research is aimed at improving the sector’s creative processes, scenario development and teaching practices. His team is exploring, among other related topics, innovations the circus community could use to adopt new immersive and interactive technologies.

The team has developed networks with more than 25 corporate and institutional partners from across Canada, each with their own international networks. The collaboration not only ensures that expertise gets exchanged, but also that practices and skills are continuously improved to meet market demands.

Aubertin has also developed a nationwide social innovation project that looks at circus arts as a means for increasing physical literacy, creativity and resilience in Canadian youth.

A longstanding member of the circus community, Aubertin, along with his research team, is leading social innovation projects promoting healthy and active lifestyles for Canadian youth through participation in the performing arts.

“Our main interest is to get children aged eight to 12 interested in movement and creativity in general,” says Aubertin. “We believe that, once you spark their creativity and equip them with physical competence, confidence and motivation, children will strive to develop robust identities that will, in turn, help them navigate the challenges of the 21st century.”