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