Tune out and turn, turn, turn
Nikesha Breeze — the director of Wise Fool New Mexico’s annual production of Circus Luminous — lives in two worlds. On the one hand, she is a digital artist who teaches new media at Taos Academy, where a “21stcentury learning community” means no classroom instructors, a computer-based curriculum, and two days of school a week. On the other hand, she is a spiritual seeker, trained at the MogaDao Institute in Santa Fe, where she teaches yoga, qigong, and Internal Alchemy. Soul’s Wind, thetitle of this year’s show, is an attempt to theatricalize her own dichotomies — to explore the relationship between technology and the human soul. Circus Luminous opens at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Friday, Nov. 25, and continues through the weekend.
Aerial acts, acrobats, clowns, stilt walkers, dancers, actors, and musicians will be on display as usual. Breeze, who has herself performed in Circus Luminous for 10 years, knows the formula. But this edition of the show is perhaps more thoughtful, literary, and subtle than most. Soul’s Wind will even come with a book of poetry inspired by the ideas in the show, written by the show’s co-author (with Breeze), Zhenzan Dao, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
The performers were told at the first rehearsal to drop their preconceptions of a string of showy acts linked by a superficial narrative. Breeze instead asked them to perform as characters, improvising for hours around ideas like “connection” and “wonder.” “At first all the performers were uncomfortable with the changes,” she told Pasatiempo. “‘Look, here’s my vision,’ I told them.”
The story is set in a familiar world where everyone is glued to their electronic devices. A young poet (played by sixteen-year-old Kima Nelson) decides to turn away from this cyber-centric world. She travels into a different reality, led by elders, the “Spiritual Laborers,” who are here to instruct, abet, mourn, inspire, and accompany.
“What we are all missing is silence,” said Breeze. “There is an onslaught of input. People take their
phones into the bathroom. Even while driving a car, people talk, text, listen to music. What’s being lost is human connection and creativity. We need to create our own images.” Breeze said her high school students, when asked to create original ideas, immediately go to the internet for answers. She said her students tell her, “Everything you can possibly need is on Google. There are no new ideas.”
In Soul’s Wind, two performers climb up huge lengths of fabric, wrapping the material and themselves into knots, then fall nearly to the ground, climbing again and then spinning endlessly in midair. This is designed to remind us about stars in the sky. “People don’t even look up at the sky anymore,” said Breeze. “The fabric act is about the ebony light in the night sky and the splendor of the stars.”
A trapeze act begins in a crowded disco, where the performer tries to make her moves bigger and bigger to get attention. Nobody is watching. Then the music shifts from techno to something in a classical vein, and the trapeze artist begins to move to the silence of her internal voice. “It’s a dance of inner reflection, of vision,” Breeze said.
Jeremy Bleich, the music director and composer of the show, was asked to bring a flavor from his Sufi community to the music. He will play the oud, a Middle-Eastern stringed instrument, in the show, which will also include a Sufi-style singer, North African sounds, and Arabic rhythms. Musical motifs were developed based on the themes of each section, which are rooted in the poems’ ideas.
As Breeze originally told the performers, “I am not looking for tricks. I want the transition from move to move to be the act.” “These are athletes at the height of power,” she said. “I want to show their skill, but I want the way they come down from the air to be in character. These are beings that are physically mending the holes in our lives made by technology.”
This kind of message is likely to go over the heads of the hundreds of Santa Fe kindergarteners and first-graders who will be bussed in, as usual, to see the show on Monday, Breeze admitted. But “I think they’ll come away with a sense of magic,” she said. “This year may be a lot deeper, but there is a lot of singing and funny moments. There are stilt horses, a giant puppet, and a nine-year-old performer, Gibraltar Farrell [who appears in the show with his mother, Oriana, and brother, Hezekiah].”
With 20 performers and 10 acts, all the elements of Circus Luminous will indeed be in place. And yet, with acts transformed by Breeze into a kind of healing art, the production may fit Wise Fool’s mission as a socially conscious performing group better than ever.
“I want it to resonate. I want to take it further. People will recognize it as Luminous, but hopefully they’ll be excited to see something new. ... I’m shooting for magical moments.”