Tune out and turn, turn, turn

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Cir­cus Lu­mi­nous

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.”

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