This year I was invited to CCAFT—The Contemporary Circus Arts Festival of Toronto—as "Festival Dramaturge" covering their variety of shows, workshops, and gatherings curated and produced by Anandam Dancetheatre and A Girl In The Sky Productions. This year they had a special focus on artistic process, and throughout the week I participated in their innovative "Creation Relay", an immersive avant-garde performance incubator, and critically wrote about the festival's offerings. This resulted in 4 pieces on Anandam Dancetheatre's blog (one yet-to-be-published), which I will link to here, as well as re-posting my favorite piece, which was about the Relay.
CCAFT: This is a participatory experience
cre·a·tion re·lay CCAFT 2015
Relay Rewind: A look at the process behind the CCAFT Creation Relay (as follows)
If you’d like to meet us here, you can start by walking backward.
On the third day of CCAFT’s Creation Relay, ten artists and two facilitators met at Equinox, the twice-yearly perfect balance of light and dark hours. This alignment highlights the abundance that comes from solar energy along with the anticipation of release. This was the harvest, and the peak of one very densely considered week of artistic creation. We began the morning walking backward on the West Toronto Rail Path, retrograding our practice of forward locomotion. As a group, we felt a fresh acknowledgement of the territories we de-prioritize. As we flocked together, we found a way to follow the path.
I feel hesitant to choose labels for what unfolded here at Collective Space, but I’ll do my best with words to relay a living picture of the “Creation Relay”, an experimental incubator program led by Brandy Leary and Manu Cyr. While circus is a central unifier and common language, we were asked to look directly at it and to explore the periphery of its form.
But where are the boundaries?
It feels entirely appropriate that our days began with a collective circle and an act of giving—to ourselves and to each other in performance practices based in ritual and community. We started on a material level—addressing the body as flesh, fat, and fluid, spirit and psyche. We adopted shamanistic practices to equally question and cull them into existence. We worked to heal ourselves and each other. Through aggregate shaking, rubbing, sharing, stretching, treating the body as sacred, Brandy Leary led us through the subtle body toward the big picture: our impact on energetic, material, and social levels.
From inward to outward focus, we found our edges through a balance of weight and pressure, pushing against bodies in contact improvisation throughout the week. We studied our gaze and its effects on our audience. We worked in the studio, we worked outside. We connected as community, as human family… the kind that circus in its most traditional form whole-heartedly represents.
Days after the Relay, I followed the Rail Path backward in solo, relying on the tactile difference between concrete and brush to signal when I moved too far in one lateral direction. I noticed the plant life that grows over the concrete, making the edge-line fuzzy and broken, slightly permeable—one step between wild and cultivated.
Mornings spent with Leary set up a state of receptivity, an ethic of care, and an open mind, allowing us to disconnect from our habits in performance. Our afternoons were guided by Emanuel Cyr, who challenged our prowess and multi-disciplinarity while capturing attention with tools of improvisation. Offerings ranged from clown, to martial arts, to dance, and Manu’s own creative fancies (…can one trace the lineage of a performance-art rock show?!). One of the first exercises was to toss out and re-write our biographies—mining quirky, intimate traits to create movement. Pieces were immediately shared, recycled, pulled apart, and re-created—worn on each other’s bodies, exaggerated, and layered with various intentions. We learned to detach from the results of our exploration, to let seeds spread and root in calculated chaos, comfortable in the grey space, dirt, and grit of formation.
Through all of it we were primed and led toward a more perfect state of presence, using our skills and learning when to leave them behind. We transformed, we questioned “character”. We examined narrative from a place of rhizomatic association, leading us to unexpected overlaps, absolute failures, incredible breakthroughs, and formal surprises. Leary and Cyr were remarkable artisan leaders, transmitting skills both practical on “stage” (in all its layers of deconstruction) and in relationship. The sense of freedom, possibility and support was pure and precious. Arriving at authenticity through embodied presence, seeing through fresh and foreign eyes, we found ourselves as much as we discovered performance.
Our public “process sharing” at the close of the week was a mix of the sacred and absurd. We healed unicorns and considered rational philosophy. We excelled in our disciplines, sublimating our habits and exalting our virtues. We celebrated circus and collective rebirth. We twerked (a lot!) in a post-colonial fashion. We gave our audiences things that were beautiful and things to think about. Things to question and to laugh at. If I were to assign a movement this process belongs to, it’s an example decidedly post-postmodern, arriving at what I propose as a style of re-constructivism—a simultaneous act of form and questioning.
Here we expose ourselves as artists resetting our awareness in the act of creation—awakening our definitions of what we will and will not become.