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Wednesday 21.03.2018 | Name days: Una, Unigunde, Dzelme, Benedikts

Riga Circus continues to exist; where does the circus spend the winter?

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RURiga Circus is one of the oldest buildings in Europe, as well as the only standing circus building in Baltic States. Unfortunately, there are no cheers, sounds of applause, children’s laughter or clown jokes heard there now. The doors of the circus are currently closed, because the building has become worn out after years of use.

According to the expert, the building has become dangerous for visitors. The management of the circus says it is not the end and that the circus continues existing. This is a new beginning for the building, because work has commenced on conservation of the building’s façade. An international design contest has been announced for the reconstruction of the building and development of the territory around the circus. Riga Circus board member Ināra Kehre says: «I think that if the circus continues functioning while the main building is closed is wonderful.»

Riga Circus is undergoing changes; design contest announced

An international design contest has been announced for the restoration of Riga Circus building and development nearby territories. According to the creative director of Riga Circus Mārtiņš Ķibers, this is the first step towards making Riga Circus a centre for quality circus art, culture and education.

In a conversation with BNN Ķibers said: «The design contest will provide a vision from architects to help develop this territory, preserving the quarter’s historic heritage». As an example he mentioned the dome, adding that the building of Riga Circus is a unique structure.

The circus’ creative director mentions that the design contest has already begun. Participants are able to submit their proposals until 4 June. Design offers will be evaluated by 11 jury members with architect Jānis Drips at the helm. Architect Dace Kalvāne has been appointed as the secretary.

Commenting on the direction of the design contest, Ķibers mentioned: «We are developing towards a contemporary circus direction. There are three main pillars to mention here to make sure the circus develops as a modern and multi-sided building, but also as form of art. These pillars are – performances, education and residences.»

Ķibers emphasizes how important it is to show that performances can be varied, adding that the foundation of contemporary circus is the narrative story that uses different circus disciplines. This is also one of the main objectives for the circus – showing the public how varied circus can be.

As for education, it is worth mentioning that Riga Circus opened a special school in September 2017. Currently anyone can enrol in this school. Looking towards the far future, Riga Circus hopes to train the next generation of circus performers to help them prepare for enrolment in international professional circus schools. »We want to offer local performers an opportunity to work with foreign artists,» says Ķibers.

The third pillar is creation of cultural residences, which will serve as a place where artists will be able to prepare their performances.

Where is the circus spending the winter?

As it is known, work is being performed on conserving the building’s façade. In February 2016, the building was closed for the public, because cracks formed in the building’s walls, making the building potentially dangerous for visitors.

According to Kehre, work is being performed to reinforce the building’s foundation. While repairs are being performed, it is not possible to use the building for circus performances.

Nevertheless, the circus continues to exist – performances are performed in different locations. Kehre says that not all premises are fit for circus performances. Because of that, locations are picked based on the needs of the performers. «The circus is very varied in the range of its requirements,» says Kehre.

She says that circus performances are not fit for just any rooms, because it is important to consider the height of the ceiling, safety and space for the audience.

The future of the circus

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Kehre says it is necessary to outline two visions for the future of the circus. The first one is calculating the exact time when façade restoration work is completed, because that is not all the building requires. The building is badly worn – it has been in constant use since 1888. The last and only time the building was given fundamental repairs was in the 50s of the 20th century.

«Walking along Merkela Street, you can tell that the building’s third floor was reconstructed. Its dome is no longer visible. The façade was originally white. And instead of the windows and door frames, which are there now, there used to be gates, because it was once a circus with horses,» the manager of the circus recalls.

Kehre reveals that conservation work on the façade may last until the end of June 2018. «It should be said, however, that it is hard to predict. It is entirely possible that new facts may be uncovered during repair work,» she adds.

Considering that three more years have to pass before real construction work can start, Ķibers mentioned an idea to give the circus a new movement once façade conservation is over and before restoration work can begin.

«We came up with an idea to create a small temporary stage for small performances, as well as organize excursions around the old circus,» he mentioned.

As for the financial aspect of construction work, the creative director mentioned that EUR 3 million have been allocated from European Regional Development Fund to ensure the building’s energy efficiency. Riga Circus together with Culture Ministry are looking for sources of remaining funding. «It is important for us to make sure the result stays for a long time – at least 100 years,» said Ķibers with a smile.

According to information from the official website of Riga Circus, to determine a specific funding range architects would have to follow when creating their design documents, contest requirements mention – the costs of restoration work must not exceed 3,000 EUR/m2.

Circus outside the building – more of a benefit than a loss

Speaking of the public opinion in regards to circus performances being performed outside the circus building, Kehre emphasizes: «Out objective is ensuring accessibility of professional circus art to the general public. This does not mean the circus should hold performances inside the main building. It is a struck of fortune that such a building even still exists in Latvia.»

She says that when it comes to society’s opinion, it is worth keeping in mind that society is not a monolith type of organism. It is also worth keeping in mind that Riga Circus is not the only circus organizer in Latvia.

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Kehre shares her observations: «Last year, we had a performance by New Zealand’s Thom Monckton. The performance itself was held in Latvia’s Culture Academy’s Theatre Building and K.K. von Stricka’s villa. All performances were packed. People, it seems, feel and behave differently depending on the environment they are put in.»

According to Kehre, it is more of a benefit rather than a loss when people come to different locations, «because people for whom such locations are attractive and people who have never attended circus performances are presented with  the world of circus in an environment comfortable for them.»

«We also have an idea to organize circus performances in different theatres, inviting theatre audience to attend performances.»

In general, Kehre reveals that she has heard no criticisms in regards to circus performances taking place outside the main building. «I think the fact that the circus is still able to exist with the main building closed is a wonderful thing.»

Kehre admits: «At least one season should pass for us to find ‘our’ audience and convince them that buying tickets for performance is worth it.»

The manager of the circus does not deny that the home of the circus is closed. While this is the case, the search for new locations for performances creates additional costs. Having a solid location does make things easier.

The initiative to restrict use of wild animals came about long before Kehre started working at Riga Circus

It should be said that the Saeima approved in the final reading amendments to the Animal Protection Law in June 2017, prohibiting the use of wild animals in attractions and circus performances.

Kehre says the initiative to restrict the use of wild animals came about long before she started working at Riga Circus. She says that in 2016 Culture Ministry asked if the circus would still be able to function if wild animals are not allowed to be used in performances. «The previous director of Riga Circus Lolita Lipinska, as far as I am aware, saw no way for the circus to function without animals. Because of that, Culture Ministry decided to not extend the contract with her,» said Kehre.

On 16 March 2017, it was announced that Kehre was approved as the new board member of Riga Circus.

Technical costs of a single circus performance reach EUR 15,000

When asked about the costs of a single circus performance, Kehre mentioned that costs usually differ from one performance to another.

«I would like to say that technical costs are usually two the three times larger than artists’ royalties, including travel and accommodation expenses, as well as stage decorations, lights, and seats. Royalties depend on the number of performances and the number of times we can show them,» explains the manager of the circus.

Continuing, she adds: «Art as value is something we will have to subsidize in the end. The moment we look at art as added value, that art is necessary for us to help support creative personalities and society in general, we have to subsidize those people. Because of that, royalties are considerable.»

Kehre mentions that approximate costs of a single performance ranges from two to fifteen thousand euros, adding that this amount includes technical costs. «Of course, it all depends on the needs of the artists. If we have our own premises, technical costs are reduced, because we can prepare everything without additional costs,» says the board member.

It should be mentioned that a special circus week will be organized in April to help promote World Circus Day, which is usually celebrated on the third Saturday of April. It is also worth mentioning that on 29 December 2018, Riga Circus will be celebrating its 130th birthday.

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