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My name is Roy Gomez. I’m finishing a PhD in Performance Studies at Northwestern University in Chicago with a research project on circus performance. While my project is fundamentally ethnographic (interviews and participant observation), I am deeply invested in understanding the circus history, which I believe is key for any circus research project regardless its methodological approach. Specifically, one of my dissertation chapters focuses on aerial rope performance (corde-lisse). I do want to have a very good grasp about lineages, traditions and overall, the evolution of rope as a “circus discipline” (would you call it differently?). So, I am very interested in gathering information about when this kind of circus acts emerged? Which are the most outstanding rope performances presented in the US circus history? How does this “circus discipline” evolved? I’d be very grateful of only having your thoughts around this, and also if you have suggestions about: has anyone explored the history of rope in the circus? Does someone have information or leads to rope artists/performances? Do you have any suggestion about archives about the circus specialized in aerial acts? I sincerely appreciate your answers/suggestions.

Roy

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Volumes that cover the history and development of performance include: Thayer’s ‘The Performers’; Hippisley-Coxe ‘Seat at the Circus’; Steve Gossard’s book on trapeze history [he’s affiliated with Illinois State University Milner Library]; Speaight’s and Thetard’s general histories of the circus; and others. Thayer covers act development in the American circus 1793-1860, the above volume supplemented by his Annals of the American Circus 1793-1860. You might also check with Dominique Jando at Circopedia, as well as others whose works focus on the circus performance arts. It is exceedingly difficult to rate performances as there was no established criteria to do so, and such presentations have taken place across more than a century of time. At best search for published commentary, in the Spirit of the Times, New York Clipper and period newspapers for reviews and commentary. Also be advised that rope performance wasn’t confined to circus, but was also on the variety stage, etc. Searching for prints and engravings of the act, in newspaper ads, illustrated newspapers, etc., will prove useful.

Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

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