Tag Archives: aerialcircus

World Circus Day- A Time to Regroup and Transform

 

 

 

 

 

 

(One of my last aerial training sessions for my MFA Thesis Project)

Today is #worldcircusday.  I am an aerialist and I haven’t been in the air, in suspension, for over a month.  I, along with practically everyone else in Canada, have been grounded.  It is a sobering experience, to say the least.  Every day I seem to encounter a new stage of grief.

A week ago, I was on a Zoom conference call (a phenomenon that has become an unwelcome, yet necessary aspect of reality), with an organization called En Piste.  En Piste is a national circus arts alliance aimed at promoting, valourizing, representing and providing access to services for professional circus artists and arts organizers in Canada.   The purpose of this meeting was to survey the needs of those in the circus industry given the current changes to the arts sector and to gather feedback on how the industry might be able to move forward with the idea that isolation may be the new normal. “We need to be thinking about how circus can adapt with the understanding that things might not return to normal until December at the earliest”, said Christine Bouchard, executive director of En Piste.  DECEMBER!  My heart sank.

I asked myself two questions.  First, will I recover?  As an aerialist, can I realistically expect to be back at work in the air after taking 8-9 months off of my training on the equipment?  No.  Realistically, things will not be back to normal. Then I asked myself a more important question, is going back to normal what I want?

“…perhaps we need to surrender rather than resist.  Perhaps we need to transform.”

I recognize that right now there’s a lot of toxic positivity going around.  When I see someone talking about how great of an opportunity social distancing is on my Facebook and Instagram feed my knee-jerk reaction is to unfollow them.  Not only is this a very privileged outlook, but I also feel sad and I don’t want to stuff all my feelings down to be productive and positive right now.

And yet…

If this truly is our new reality.  If theatres, and circus tents, and arenas can’t reopen their doors in the foreseeable future, perhaps we need to surrender rather than resist.  Perhaps we need to transform.

My perception of the circus has always been tied to the notion of achievement.

“Look at this cool new thing I did!”

“See how high I can climb, how fast I can spin?”

(Photo: Me doing a cool thing in the air and sharing it with the world)

For many, including myself, the circus is an outward display of strong, brave and bold physical artistry.

This outward display of skill is likely not going away (nor am I suggesting it should), but perhaps in this time of stillness and solitude, a deeper more profound connection with our art can emerge.  B. K. S. Iyengar in Light of Life (2005) when speaking of the asana corpse pose, or savasana, says “a practitioner who can put aside his every identity can access places where no plump ego could squeeze through” (235).  We, as artists, are being asked to transform, to reinvent not only our processes but our identity.

Perhaps now when we invert, be it on stage or in our living room, we won’t only be thinking, “look at this cool new thing”, but we will also ask “what does this inversion mean to me?” and  “how does this make me feel?”.

“Our world is on fire, but the structure that is keeping that fire contained is community. “

As I sat in on this Zoom conference, which was made up of circus artists specifically from Western Canada, I was excited.  This was the first time I had ever been in a room (albeit a virtual one) with artists from my discipline and region at the same time.  The whole time I kept thinking… Community.  Our world is on fire, but the structure that is keeping that fire contained is community.

In the transient and nomadic world of circus, the notion of community is felt under the big top and in the training space, but now is growing to include our living rooms and are homes, regardless of whether you are a circus artist from Calgary or living in the circus mecca of Montreal.  Perhaps, after this pandemic, there is a future for circus where “community” can be understood more broadly.

And, not only is our circus community expanding nationally right not, but it is also growing internally.  Our community is beginning to include ourselves. My heart and gut and spirit are now being given the space to be just as valued a part of my body’s community as my lats and biceps once were.

I read recently that someone had predicted that after social distancing ends there will be an influx of solos launched out into the world.  I predict, or rather hope, that in the circus there will be an outpouring of work that is deeper, more sensorial and more connected, both inwardly and outwardly, to a larger and stronger community.

There are no straight lines or direct courses of action anymore.  We, as a nation, have been launched into a state of the unknown.  But perhaps in this place of grief, we as circus artists can begin the beautiful and challenging process of transformation.

 


Works cited

Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner peace, And Ultimate Freedom.  Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale, 2005. Print.

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Asking Why

I have a great respect for circus artists and their constant effort to keep trying new things.  Always asking, how can we make this better? Cleaner? Stronger?

But what about the why?  Does motivation matter?


Why does my body move? What is the intention of the movement?

To seduce…

To soar…

To free…

To conquer…

” […] in life, everything we do and say has an intent, whether conscious or unconscious.”

An intention in acting, also called a motivation or objective, is a driving force that fuels and grounds an actor in a scene.  The idea is that in life, everything we do and say has an intent, whether conscious or unconscious.  When an actor plays the intention of the character in a scene it can help give the lines a deeper meaning and a more honest delivery.

Persephone Bound_Leda_Davies_Aerial_Circus_Theatre_02

Persephone Bound_Leda Davies Photo Credit: PhotosDeCirque.com

In circus, the lines of text are the movement and the apparatus (or other circus artists, and sometimes, the audience) is the other character on stage.  When a circus artist knows their intention, they are able to unlock the honesty in the movement and breathe new life into what is otherwise a mechanical exercise.

If the artist doesn’t ask herself why she moves, how is the performance ‘art’, and not ‘sport’?  What is the difference between a circus act and an Olympic event if the person on stage doesn’t know what they are trying to communicate to their audience?

“[…] in order to uncover the meaning the artist must ask why they move.”

In French the circus performer is often called “l’interprête”, the interpreter.  A quick search on dictionary.com will tell you that a person who interprets, “gives, or brings out meaning”.  Therefore, it is the circus artists role to bring out the meaning of the choreography, and in order to uncover the meaning the artist must ask why they move.

Triptyque par Samuel, Anne et Marie

Triptyque des 7 Doigts de la main

I recently attended a circus forum in which the speaker, Samuel Tétreault of Les Septs Doigts de la main, was giving a brief history of contemporary circus and compared it to the evolution of contemporary dance.  Contemporary circus is a rebellion from traditional circus, said Tétreault, just as the flexed foot in early contemporary dance was considered a revolt to the mutiny of ballet, not that long ago in circus a flexed foot was considered avant-garde.  Now, contemporary circus artists wear street clothes instead of leotards, and in some cases, as with the shows of Les Sept Doigts, the artists speak directly to the audience, and share personal stories.  These are evolutions of an art form. If circus is to evolve why not address the fact that these are human beings performing these death defying feats, not props or objects.  They have two eyes that look out into an audience, a heart that beats and a mind capable of desire.

“An artist’s job to captivate you for however long we’ve asked for your attention. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky. And I don’t get to decide what truth is.”

In season 3, episode 17 of The West Wing U.S. Poet Laureate Tabatha Fortis, played by Laura Dern says, “An artist’s job to captivate you for however long we’ve asked for your attention. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky. And I don’t get to decide what truth is.”

Persephone Bound_Leda_Davies_Aerial_Circus_Theatre_03

Persephone Bound_Leda Davies Photo Credit: PhotosDeCirque.com

In circus there are many things that can captivate an audience.  The draw might be the strength of the artist, their flexibility or their audacity to hang upside-down from one’s ankle 10 feet in the air.  It might also be the large (or small) scale of the apparatus, or it might be the number of acrobats in a pyramid.  I’m all for being ‘wowed’, but personally I want more from my art going experience, otherwise it’s merely spectacle. Often times, when I watch contemporary circus -acts I can’t help but disengage from the experience. Without intention behind the movement I’m simply not captivated.

“I don’t want the glitter and fanfare if it means losing the heart, the humanity.”

I don’t want the glitter and fanfare if it means losing the heart, the humanity. The movement doesn’t necessarily have to tell a story to keep me captivated (although my mind may do that subconsciously), but the movement must have intention, because that is the difference between circus as a skill and technique and a rip your heart out, can’t peel my eyes off the stage, wondrous performance.

Intention gives a movement life.  Intention is the artist’s job.  Intention has a role in the evolution of contemporary circus. Intention is what makes movement art.  And that is why the circus arts must ask “Why”.

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