Tag Archives: Montreal

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

Cirquantique - Cocktail avril 2017-0650

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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A look back… and a push forward

“The only person you should be comparing yourself to is who you were yesterday.”
Falsely yours, A. Nonymous

June wasn’t without it’s challenges, but like they say: “With great challenge comes great reward”, and rewards there were many.

It is with great pleasure that I am sharing with you my new aerial silks demo reel.  The video was filmed at École National du Cirque in Montreal and was recorded and edited by my talented friend Alexis Vigneault.

Léda Davies- Silks Demo from Leda Davies on Vimeo.

I am beyond proud of the end result.  It is a great symbol of my work this past year, and an excellent motivation to keep going!

I also received my prints from my first aerial photoshot!

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I really enjoyed playing with makeup and getting a chance to see my character come to life.  Now, I’m all set to head out and start knocking on company doors.  For a glimpse at some of the photos check out the Gallery.

Monday, June 30th was the opening of our show “100% femmes” at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.

141 Photo by: Hervé Leblay

It was 40 degrees outside with the humidity, and pavement and wind were interesting challenges, but we did really well.  We are beyond excited to perform our last two shows on Friday, July 5th and Saturday, July 6th. Feel free to check out some of the photos taken during our first show in the Gallery page.

If I were to be comparing myself, to the Léda who started this blog 1 year ago, I would have to say I’ve come a long way, and I can’t wait to keep going.  Anything is possible!

 

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July 3, 2014 · 4:18 pm

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal

Summer has officially arrived in Montreal, and to kick it off is one of the cities biggest outdoor festivals  the Montreal Jazz Festival.  (Festival International de Jazz de Montréal)

This year myself, and collaborator Noémie Beauchamp will be present our orginial 20 min show “100% femmes”

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Created using music by female jazz artists, and performed by an all female cast,  “100% femmes” uses dance, silks, aerial chains and dance trapeze to celebrate women’s strength, sensitivity, energy and individuality.

Come out and show your support!

Monday, June 30th – 4:30pm 
Friday, July 4th- 4pm
Saturday, July 5th- 4:30pm

 

**On the corner of rue Jeanne-Mance and Ste. Catherine

 

The show is free, but any donations after the the performance are greatly appreciated.

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Cirqua Zerna

My first ever circus show in Montreal!!!!

I have been given the opportunity to perform in Cirqua Zerna, the annual show presented by La Caserne 18-30, the aerial studio I train at in Montreal.

I auditioned for the show back in February, and I’m very proud to be a part of this stellar group of artists.  There are so many fiercely talent people that I train with everyday, and it’s so cool to get to create with some of them, especially under the direction of Guillaume Biron.

I was cast as an aerialist in a silk quartette, which also includes a hammock contortionist (’cause that’s how we roll), and I will also be dancing and roaming the room as a character.  The show has a cast of 14, and the artists range from hoola hoopist, contortionist, jugglers, musicians and even an aerial chain act.

This will also be the first time ever I perform in a circus tent!!! For those of you reading this living in Montreal, the tent is situated @ 4375 Ontario Est , behind the Marché Maisonneuve.

This is a really exciting opportunity to share all my hard work for the past ten months to a public audience which includes my friends, my teachers, and also, hopefully, other circus directors, and scouts who might be interested in working with me (*wink* *wink*).

You can check out more information, like how to buy tickets, here: http://www.caserne1830.ca/cirqua-zerna.html

 

Come check it out if you can!

 

Zerna Poster

 

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