As circus takes an increasingly international outlook, UK practitioners are looking to train in Europe and beyond. Katharine Kavanagh explains how a new campus is helping ESAC maintain its reputation for excellence


On April 19, circus artists from around the world will reunite at their old school in Belgium to mark the inauguration of its new campus. The Ecole Superieure des Arts du Cirque has a reputation as one of the top circus schools on the planet, and a visit to its purpose-fitted building in the Anderlecht district of Brussels reveals why.

A former coal-fired heating plant has been transformed into the new home for 50 students on the three-year degree programme that ESAC has offered for the past 15 years, supported by an equivalent number of teaching staff.

Funds from Belgium’s French-speaking community commission have been used to fit the industrial space with sprung floors, rigging points, aerial walkways and studios, capitalising on the existing functionality of the building and directing money into technical additions rather than architectural restructuring. There are also classroom and workshop spaces across the five floors and basement, where lessons in history of art and history of circus form part of each year’s syllabus.

“Every circus school has its own identity,” says principal Virginie Jortay. “ESAC’s goal is for graduates to become directors of their own act. Our purpose is to serve the project of the student.”

Creativity is one of the key qualities the school looks for in potential applicants during the five-day audition process. This intensive introduction includes group workshops, a three-minute solo presentation of a circus skill and, for those who progress past the third day, individual interviews. From about 140 annual applicants, a group of between 17 and 19 will be selected to join the course.

Despite being home to one of the world’s top higher education institutes for circus, Belgium does not have the infrastructure of preparatory programmes available in other countries. With a high standard of technique required for the competitive entrance exam, most of ESAC’s student body is international.

British Cyr wheel artist Jo Moss decided to train at ESAC after completing a BTec at Circomedia in Bristol and then spending a year at Piste d’Azur preparatory school in France.