Tag Archives: performance

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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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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