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The Long Lens Approach: A sustainable creation model for the future

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Léda Davies on straps in Persephone Bound, performed at Cocktail Cirquantique, April 2017 in Montreal. Photo by Louis-Charles Dumai

For the majority of (English) theatres in Canada a rehearsal period is 2.5 weeks long, the rest of the 3rd week is spent in tech and then it’s SHOWTIME! This is the standard theatre creation model.  Generally, this timeline is followed due to necessity.  Rehearsals cost time and money, and a show doesn’t start generating revenue until it’s got an audience.  However, is this the most advantageous model?  Is this model producing a high quality of art, or is there benefit in taking what I like to call “the long lens” approach?

The creation process for Persephone Bound began in the Fall 2015, and is only now entering the production phase.  Although part of this long-term process model was necessary due to full-time jobs, and busy touring schedules it has given the production multiple layers, enabled us to integrate multiple disciplines without sacrificing quality or technique and has made producing this project financially viable for the small independent company that I run.

My partner Jed Tomlinson and I began exploring the themes and artistic elements of the show in November 2015, when we participated in AER Time, a work-in-progress showcase curated by Femmes du Feu.

We wouldn’t go into another creation period until end of June 2016.  However, in the 6 months leading up to the residency I wrote several drafts of the script, and trained rigorously on the straps (the apparatus I eventually decided to use in the show), gaining as much strength, endurance and vocabulary as possible.

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Léda Davies on straps in Persephone Bound, performed at Sans-Filet, August 2016 in Montreal. Photo by Hervé Leblay

We participated in a research and creation residency with La TOHU in June 2016. Our rehearsals were split between time on the equipment at the National Circus School and time in the studio (see: Screaming Goats Collective).  The first creation residency allowed us to answer many questions about the project.  We developed our own creation process, clarified the story, re-wrote the script, defined the role that each discipline would have in the production and specified who our audience would be.   At the end of the residency I performed a short excerpt of the opening scene in front of nearly 800 people, and the feedback during the talk-back with the audience was very positive.  But still, the project was nowhere near complete.

Recognizing that I needed to develop the script further before we could complete the choreography I teamed up with Emma Tibaldo, dramaturge with Playwrights Workshop Montreal.  From November-May 2017 I wrote multiple versions of the script and would meet with Emma and Jed to update them on my progress.  This time also allowed me to research the themes of sexual consent, the laws and the individual stories of survivors which enriched the script and my own character.

This past May we began a second research and creation residency with La Tohu.  We reunited our whole collaborative team, completed the choreographic sequences and added the element of sound, which would be played live throughout the performance.  At the end of the residency we were able to perform the entire production for an invited audience.

“Like the perfect chocolate cake each layer of the process added a satisfying nuance.”

By slowly building Persephone Bound over a two-year period we were able to present a thoroughly developed story and rich characters.  Although many of the original scenes from the first workshop ended up being cut, their essence remained.  Something that was once a scene might now only be a line, but that line carried with it greater depth and importance.  Like the perfect chocolate cake each layer of the process added a satisfying nuance.

“With time on my side I was able to develop my strength, technique and straps vocabulary until the apparatus literally became an extension of myself.”

But these layers would be ineffective if the technique wasn’t there.   With time on my side I was able to develop my strength, technique and straps vocabulary until the apparatus literally became an extension of myself.  Persephone Bound features not one, but four aerial sequences and I’m literally attached to the equipment the entire 40 min long show.  From a circus perspective this is unheard off.  Most solo aerialists in a Cirque du Soleil production are in the air for 6 min IF that.  But, having the extra time to train allowed me to build up my endurance so that I didn’t get injured and I could safely execute all my skills.

“I would not have been able to produce any of these workshops if it weren’t for my full-time job.”

Lastly, this long lens approach made this project financially viable.  As I mentioned earlier, most companies can’t afford to take this much time to create a project because they need to get their shows in front of an audience as soon as possible to make money.  The difference being, I am not a large-scale theatre company.  I am an independent artist creating this project because it excites me artistically and I believe it is an important story to tell.  I would not have been able to produce any of these workshops if it weren’t for my full-time job.  This meant that I had to train after work, and on the weekends.  I would spend most of my lunch hours working on my script.  I collected my over-time hours so that I could take paid leave to produce the residencies.  I’m not saying it was ideal for me to be working a full-time job while producing and performing in a large multidisciplinary project, but when grants didn’t come through I could keep going, and I wasn’t broke at the end of the day.  For the emerging artist wondering how they can viably create and produce their own projects the long lens is a financially sustainable model.

“…the long lens approach allowed us many benefits which included developing characters, a script and movement with more depth, successfully integrating high level movement disciplines without sacrificing technique or causing injury and we didn’t go broke…”

I would like to add one more thing, and that is about deadlines.  Yes, the long lens approach allowed us many benefits which included developing characters, a script and movement with more depth, successfully integrating high level movement disciplines without sacrificing technique or causing injury and we didn’t go broke, but it’s still important to have a deadline, even if that deadline is one year away.  In fact we had many deadlines.  I would make deadlines for new scripts, and meetings with my dramaturge and the creation workshops gave us deadlines for when we would present certain elements of the play.  The time commitments kept us focused, and motivated.

All these qualities have taught me that a long-term creation plan, or “long lens” approach has many advantages and I would encourage any company looking at devised work, or interdisciplinary performance to consider adopting this model.  It just might keep the art of theatre alive for generations to come.

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Léda Davies on straps in Persephone Bound, performed at Cocktail Cirquantique, April 2017 in Montreal. Photo by Louis-Charles Dumai

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March Madness: 5 Competition Tips with Coach Meaghan Wegg

It’s March which means competition and audition season is starting up again…

This year I’m starting off  with the Move With The Beat competition in Cornwall, ON. Where I will be presenting my Weggsphere number, as well as my acro-dance routine.

Meaghan Wegg on her invention the Weggsphere

Meaghan Wegg on her invention the Weggsphere

MWTB is a unique competition that combines dance, circus and aerial acrobatics. It also features an adult, and professional category for “professional dancers who are 18 years of age, currently studying at a superior level and wish to pursue a professional performance career.” (http://movewiththebeat.com/index.php/the-competition/classifications)

The competition was founded by my amazing coach and mentor Meaghan Wegg, who is all about “promoting new talent and career opportunities for the next generation in dance, circus and performance.”

My coach and mentor Meaghan Wegg

My coach and mentor Meaghan Wegg

Several months ago we got together in Montréal to talk a little bit about Meaghan’s circus story. Here’s a little bit of what she had to say…

Meaghan, you were born in small town Ontario, and you’ve spent many years touring and being on the road. What is special to you about Montreal?

““I moved to Montreal when I was 15. I’m a country girl, I had never taken a bus or metro or anything. I came here with nothing, knowing no one, and I grew to love the city because this is where I became an independent woman.”

However, it is important for Meaghan to stay connected to her roots. She often goes back to her sister’s studio in Ontario to teach, and of course she is the director of the MWTB competitions, which take place in Cornwall, Chatham and Grand Bend.

““I get to be a roll model for (people) back home which I love to be”

In addition to the MWTB competitions, Meaghan also is also a casting agent for special events with a new branch of her company “Move With The Beat Entertainment”, she is also a choreographer, teacher, world class aerialist and dancer.

Your background in dance inspires me, but do you ever wish you came from a gymnastics background?

“I’m very happy that I’m a dancer that became a circus artist. I was always at the ballet bar, hanging off like a monkey. I could not do a class without doing a cartwheel, or bending backwards. […] I did all my exams in dance. And I took my certification in Acrobatic dancing. When you’re at the circus school you only have 4 hours a week of dancing. So the first thing that I did when I graduated […] was to go back to the dance world. When I’m creating, it makes me different. I always think ‘how can I dance this?’ When I choreograph something on hoop, I always do dance choreography first and then put it in the air.”

How do you stay motivated? What keeps you going?

“Since I was little, there’s always been a fire, a drive inside in me, and if I really go back and think about it, […] the way that my mom and dad brought me up was super optimistic. […] I took all this advice from my parents […] if I wanted money I had to do 10 sets of push-ups, ever since I learned how to walk. They had a way of bringing me up that always made me want to work harder and be the best I can be.“

What’s your secret? How do you manage to do so many different things?

“My schedule is insane, and I’ve had to learn how to manage things. The word impossible means I’m Possible. That’s what it spells. Anything is possible, you just have to work, manage it.”

MWTB Competition also features a fierce line-up of adjudicators. You can find a complete listing, including bios HERE.

Personally, I’m super excited and honored to be participating in this event.

It’s been a long time since I’ve ventured into the competitive dance world, but I’m looking forward to performing as a professional, testing out my training and presenting my acts for such reputable judges.

If you are in the Cornwall area and you want to check it out the competition runs from March 20th-22nd, and I will be competing on March 22nd. Feel free to message me for more details.

 

Splits in the park in YYC

Splits in the park in YYC

 

 

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