Tag Archives: culture

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.

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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.”

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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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The unthinkable

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Last week during training I did the unthinkable… I took my shirt off during training!

The studio was empty, and I had been working hard.  I thought it would be nice to see what my lines looked like on video without any tank top interference.  So, after a big gulp of courage and took off that extra layer.


What’s the big deal?

As a professional circus artist living in Montreal I have the great pleasure of training next to elite athletes every day. Being in this environment can be very inspiring, but it can also be intimidating.  I can’t help but look at these circus bodies and think: “damn girl”!  I also can’t seem to stop comparing myself to their bodies and think “that ain’t me”. I’m a mean, lean, circus machine, but all I can focus on while I’m at training is the fact that I don’t have a six-pack.

“This isn’t necessarily the fault of the circus industry […], but an issue of my own lack of self-confidence. “

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the circus industry, even though there is a great deal of pressure to “look” a certain way, but an issue of my own lack of self-confidence.  Just the other day I was talking to a girlfriend who proudly announced that she went to her hot yoga class in a sports bar and tights.  I was so inspired by her body confidence, and ashamed that I didn’t have the same level of self-assurance.

*Speaking of six-packs… check out this video by the folks of Cirque du Soleil*

Two summers ago my goal was to get a six pack and I worked with a coach to reach my goal.  Getting to that level of lean body mass and maintaining it in a healthy way meant a high level of commitment and sacrifice.  I’m talking diligent meal planning,  not enjoying a pint of cider on a patio, or treating myself to a summer gelato.  In the end I decided I wasn’t interested in attaining that “perfect” body image.  I held on to the good eating habits and allowed myself the freedom of having the occasional treat.  For me that is a more sustainable model.  But, there was another element at play that I was forgetting… Self-love.

“Let’s face it, the biggest person judging me… is ME!”

I make a conscious effort to eat whole food, eat consciously, and limit my refined sugar.  I have felt the benefits of eating well balance, and properly proportioned meals.  But, I still struggle with having a positive body image.

That is why training in my sport bra the other day, and snapping that pic (see above) was such a huge moment for me.

I’m shifting my thinking. I’m proud of my body without being spent on getting ripped.

Let’s face it, the biggest person judging me… is ME! And I don’t want to feel ashamed of my body.  I want to be proud.  I work hard, I’m strong and my body is amazing.

So strip off those layers, and ignore the nay-sayers.  We all deserve to feel free in our own skin.

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If you want to learn more about “the cost of getting lean” I encourage you to read this article by Ryan Andrews & Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition.

For support on finding a healthy balance with food and exercise, or if you struggle with a food intolerance, I encourage you to contact me for a nutrition consultation. See my nutrition page.

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Cirque, Culture & Diversity

“Big results require big ambitions”- Heraclitus

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On July 14th, I co-facilitated with Nicki Miller (Only Child Aerial Theatre) a round table discussion on equity and diversity in contemporary circus presented as part of the OFF MICC.

Diversity has become a hot-topic at the Montreal Complètement Cirque Festival over the past couple of years.  Last year, in the context of the festival, the Montreal Working Group on Circus, led by Louis Partick Leroux facilitated “Encounters with Circus and its Others”, and this year Andréane Leclerc, Angélique Willkie, Éliane Bonin, Dana Dugan and Miriam Ginestier co-produced Cirque OFF which sought to “assemble and advocate for an environment of candid expression and the exchange of ideas
​to liberate the circus form and foster agency.” (http://www.cirqueoffmtl.com/mission.html)

Although each of these events had their own unique presentation models, they both featured professionals of the circus community in North America who are seeking an evolution of the art form to include a broader range of artists, performances and opportunities.

Nicki and I had a similar objective with our panel discussion.

We assembled a panel of presenters including:

Dana Dugan (Concordia), Alisan Funk (Concordia & ENC), Susie Williams (Acrobatic Conundrum), Joseph Pinzon (Founder and Creative Producer of Short Round Productions), Thomas Lenglart (Cirque Eloize), and Guillaume Saladin (Artcirq)

Our main goals were to

  • Define what diversity in circus includes.
  • Identify ways we embracing diversity in circus.
  • Where have we seen progress so far?
  • What have been our limiting factors towards further growth?
  • Destigmatizing diversity as a subject and opening the conversation for further public discourse.
Acrobatic Conundrum

Photo by Wittypixel Featuring: (top) Xochitl Sosa and (below) Ellie Rossi- Acrobatic conundrum

Can white people talk about diversity?

We did our best to have as diverse a panel as possible, but there was one problem… We had a glaring lack of representation of people of colour, receive some criticism.  I was told flat-out by one participant that as a white person “you have no idea what it’s like being perceived as a minority, and you don’t really have the right to talk about these issues”.

Which got me thinking… Can white people talk about diversity?

For one, I don’t know a lot of circus artists who aren’t white. Admittedly, this was one of my motivating factors for creating this discussion in the first place, but it did create a problem when trying to find panelists and audiences members of colour.  I relied on my friends on Facebook and a handful of recommendations from peers to find panelists and attendees.  I had contacted other circus leaders in the industry who recommended some people of colour, but many were on tour, or could not attend.  We had no budget or stipend to offer artists traveling from abroad.  The result was that we only had one panelist who was not Caucasian.

“I recognize that I am privileged, and as such I am compelled to make an effort to use my privileged and my voice to have an influence in my community.”

Secondly, as a privileged white person I don’t know, and I will never know what it is like to be a part of a cultural minority, therefore I cannot genuinely empathize with the issues and struggles a person of colour faces on a daily basis.  However, I recognize that I am privileged, and as such I am compelled to make an effort to use my privileged and my voice to have an influence in my community.  My objective with the panel was to create a space for people who felt they were not being represented or supported by the circus community due to their difference and to create a dialogue about how we can create more depth in the circus domain looking forward.

Despite a lack of representation of people of colour, our panel was made up of 50% women, 50% men; 3 Americans, 2 Canadians and 1 dual citizen; 2 queer, 3 straight and 1 non identified person.  We also made sure to include people from different backgrounds including circus performers, educators, producers, casting directors and social circus facilitators.

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Photo credit: Artcirq Iglookik 2005

We were not only speaking of diversity of cultural representation on stage, but also varieties of gender, race, and cultural perspectives) and in artistic aesthetic (theatrical tools, circus disciplines).

“I choose to use that influence to discourage systemic disadvantages and promote the inclusion of any person, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation.”

We asked our attendees to share with us where they wanted to see more diversity in circus.  Some of the responses include:

  • Gender roles
  • Subject matter- beyond love stories with a male counterpart
  • Transparent, responsible, reflective processes of creation
  • Educate circus audiences of different, less commercial forms of circus
  • More diversity of preparatory circus education

Growing up with privilege, I have been taught that I have an influence over the way things work out.  This is a great gift.  Personally, I choose to use that influence to discourage systemic disadvantages and promote the inclusion of any person, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation.

“Through this panel I hoped to share the insights I have gained about diversity with my artistic peers.”

Yes I am white, but I support diversity and celebrate difference.

I wear many hats, and one of those is as an administrator at McGill University.  Through this role I have learnt about various admissions process and outreach projects that have been established by the university in an attempt to diversify the student body.  Through this panel I hoped to share the insights I have gained about diversity with my artistic peers.

Would it be ideal to have people of all different type of cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders and abilities facilitating and attending these events?  Absolutely!

I hope that the panel discussion inspired many more conversations.  By producing this one event I have been exposed to so many more artists from different backgrounds and I look forward to including/ supporting them.

“[…] please educate me!”

And if you’re reading this and you are a person of colour, or any minority for that matter, please educate me!  Share your experiences with me and let me know how I can help support your voice.


The event cirque culture & diversité/ circus culture & diversity had just over 20 local artists in attendance and over 30 people have viewed our live-stream to-date.

 

 

 

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