Like the parade when the circus comes to town, this exhibition presents, for the first time, magnificent costumes and finery from the greatest circus companies in the world. In their braided coats or leotards, decorated with painted motifs, embroidery and sequins ringmasters, tragic and comic clowns, horse riders, acrobats, jugglers, animal tamers, trapeze artists and tightrope walkers embody the magic of circus art in a flurry of color and light. The CNCS
invites visitors to discover this universe from the first appearance of the modern circus in the 18th century to the mutations of the contemporary circus.
Elements presented in the exhibition
Costumes, accessories, trunks, paintings, photographs, posters, costume and makeup models, audiovisual documents, interviews with artists, costume designers and costume makers are being presented at the CNCS. These works come from the most prestigious circuses and circus families in the world: Fratellini, Bouglione, Cirque Plume, Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Phénix, Franco Dragone Entertainment Group. They come from the circuses themselves, but also from the rich collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, notably from the Performing Arts Department, as well as from private collectors, costume designers and craftsmen.
Backstage at the circus
To supplement the presentation of the wardrobe of these emblematic characters, the exhibition brings visitors backstage. From the conception of the costume to its making, the talent of true craftsmen and traditional and more contemporary processes are highlighted; as well as the indispensable complements of makeup, wigs, masks, shoes
An artists dressing room evokes the physical transformation of the artist into a character ready to elicit laughter and emotion. With this presentation, the exhibition also shows the evolution of costumes used in the different acts, borrowing from military art as well as from ballet; from the fashion of exoticism as well as from history and contemporary art.
The fantastic history of the circus
From its origins in equestrian art in the mid 17th Century England, the circus spread throughout the entire western world and as far as the United States, Africa and China, creating a form of colorful popular show in perpetual renewal based on the elements which forged its identity: the ring, the big top, risk, prowess, laughter. Throughout its history the circus has been movement and metamorphosis, creating a very technical, demanding and spectacular art of costume.
The CNCS conserves the most prestigious collections in the world, on deposit from its three founding institutions - the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Comédie-Française and the Opéra national de Paris as well as costumes donated to the CNCS by costume designers, theatres, theatre and dance companies, artists and their families. Today, more than 10,000 costumes and accessories are conserved in the ultramodern reserves of this 18th century cavalry barracks: the costumes worn by Maria Callas in Norma in 1964, Jean Maraiss armour in Britannicus in 1952, the tutus by Christian Lacroix for Les Anges ternis in 1987, the costumes by Philippe Découflé for the Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992 and many more. The Centre national de costume de scène et de la scénographie (CNCS) is situated in Moulins in the Allier department and occupies a part of the Quartier Villars, a cavalry barracks dating from the end of the 18th century which has been classified as a Historic Monument. The restoration of the barracks building was accompanied by the construction of a new building for the reserves of the collection, designed by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte.