Bod­ies of work Wise Fool’s cir­cus-arts show­case

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Jen­nifer Levin The New Mex­i­can

brothers and I used to climb trees, wres­tle, and jump off things. Some­times we’d get hurt, but it was re­ally fun. As an adult, you don’t usu­ally have those kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties. There’s no ap­pro­pri­ate so­cial out­let for in­ter­act­ing with peo­ple like that,” Nee­bin­naukzhik Southall said dur­ing a re­cent Fri­day-night open stu­dio for par­tic­i­pants in BUST!, Wise Fool New Mex­ico’s sixweek cir­cus-arts train­ing in­ten­sive. BUST! wel­comes as­pir­ing per­form­ers who iden­tify as women, trans­gen­der, or non­bi­nary, and cul­mi­nates in three public show­cases on Fri­day, June 30, and Satur­day, June 31, in which par­tic­i­pants dis­play their new skills in aerial dance, ac­ro­bat­ics, trapeze, stilt-walk­ing, and more.

Like many who take part in BUST!, Southall had no cir­cus ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore the in­ten­sive be­gan, but she has seen her strength and agility steadily im­prove. Trapeze is the most chal­leng­ing skill she has learned, be­cause it re­quires so much of her shoul­ders. “You have to re­ally throw your­self up onto the trapeze, and that’s hard. It’s frus­trat­ing be­cause some­how I think it should be like play­ground swings and that I should re­mem­ber how to do it.”

Freyr Marie di­rects this year’s show­case, which cen­ters on the mul­ti­ple in­ter­sect­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of the par­tic­i­pants, and how they come to­gether to cre­ate a story. “How do we tell our sto­ries and em­body our re­al­i­ties with dig­nity?” she asked. “And how do our bod­ies cre­ate art that rec­og­nizes our con­text and cre­ates so­cial trans­for­ma­tion?” Marie added that this kind of art-mak­ing should be joy­ous and lib­er­at­ing. “I see peo­ple bloom as they ex­pe­ri­ence phys­i­cal chal­lenges, as well as the per­sonal and emo­tional chal­lenges that come up when we in­ter­act with our bod­ies in these new ar­eas of ex­pres­sion.”

When viewed from the au­di­ence, cir­cus acts may ap­pear ef­fort­less. Un­derneath the grace and sparkle, how­ever, even the most ex­pe­ri­enced per­form­ers’ mus­cles shake from the tremen­dous ex­er­tion. En­ter­ing the dis­ci­pline for the first time is like start­ing any new phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, from yoga to bal­let to roller derby, in that you are likely to be bad at it at first. That is just fine at Wise Fool. The en­vi­ron­ment of BUST! is non­com­pet­i­tive and sup­port­ive of all dif­fer­ent ages, fit­ness lev­els, body types, and gen­der pre­sen­ta­tions. Par­tic­i­pants are taught and over­seen by a lead­er­ship team of cir­cus pro­fes­sion­als. Over the last few years, BUST! has broad­ened its mis­sion and staff to be more di­verse and inclusive of trans­gen­der and non­bi­nary peo­ple.

Marie ini­tially en­tered cir­cus arts as a drag per­former and par­tic­i­pated in BUST! for the first time in 2009. “I was usu­ally the only trans per­son in the space, and I didn’t see my­self re­flected in a lot of the aes­thet­ics that were be­ing cre­ated. It’s of­ten peo­ple twirling on fab­ric, point­ing toes, and be­ing beau­ti­ful and grace­ful — but what is the story you are telling? What drives you to do this ac­tiv­ity? Cir­cus is a phys­i­cal medium for de­vel­op­ing a deeper re­la­tion­ship with one’s self, get­ting one’s needs met, what­ever that means. I re­ally like to stress to par­tic­i­pants that it’s just that. It’s not about the final per­for­mance or about be­ing able to wrap your­self up a mil­lion times in the silks. That medium, that story — it’s just yours.”

At forty-eight, Rox­anne Tapia is the old­est par­tic­i­pant. One of her stu­dents from Monte del Sol Char­ter School, Lu­cia Lopez, who is six­teen, is the youngest. Lopez did a men­tor­ship in aerial fab­ric per­for­mance for a school re­quire­ment and wanted to learn a broader ar­ray of cir­cus arts at BUST!, while Tapia wanted a new way to chal­lenge her­self. Lopez is sore and bruised af­ter ev­ery class, but said that the pain is worth it be­cause of the progress she makes. Her fa­vorite skill is still aerial fab­rics, which work the thighs and can be rough on the feet, be­cause silk can burn your skin as you learn to ma­neu­ver your body up and down.

Tapia, who will per­form on trapeze, is ac­tive in the Santa Fe the­ater com­mu­nity and is a re­cently cer­ti­fied Pi­lates in­struc­tor. “I don’t want to give the im­pres­sion that I’m in bet­ter shape than I am. I have good core strength, but cir­cus is a whole dif­fer­ent realm,” she said. “I’m chal­lenged in the up­per body mostly — if I need to climb or hold my­self up with my arms. I can do it par­tially, if some­one sup­ports me, but I don’t have the strength to do it on my own. My legs are pretty strong, though.”

The ex­haus­tion and pain that come with learn­ing all of these skills mean emo­tions can some­times run high. The mem­bers of the lead­er­ship team have all been through the same process of trial and er­ror, fail­ure and suc­cess, and so their guidance is more than phys­i­cal. “Even if you don’t have is­sues around trauma or trust — even if that isn’t some­thing that some­one is cog­nizant of — it comes up,” Marie said. “Hav­ing to be touched by other peo­ple, hav­ing to go up­side down. There are so many edges that no mat­ter who you are, you’re go­ing to find your trig­gers.”

De­spite the rig­ors of the prac­tice, BUST! of­fers some par­tic­i­pants their first taste of an en­vi­ron­ment that is re­spect­ful and sup­port­ive rather than com­pet­i­tive and den­i­grat­ing. Chris­tine Siegrist was an ath­lete and clas­si­cal bal­let dancer from early child­hood through her teenage years, but when she was just nine years old, “It was made very clear to me that my body was not cut out for the form,” she said. She stuck with dance de­spite teach­ers who com­mented on her per­ceived flaws and even poked her with their fin­gers. Siegrist started tak­ing classes at Wise Fool about a year ago, build­ing on an ex­ist­ing yoga prac­tice, and was soon so taken with the medium and the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s over­all mis­sion that she now serves on Wise Fool’s board of di­rec­tors. Though she felt well pre­pared phys­i­cally to em­bark on cir­cus due to her back­ground, “Where I was last year and where I am now are two dif­fer­ent places. I’m much stronger now.”

At the open work­shop, Alanna Her­rera con­cen­trated on acro-bal­ance, a part­ner-cen­tered ac­tiv­ity in which one per­son “bases” while the other “flies,” bal­anc­ing on the ab­domen atop their part­ner’s feet or stand­ing on their thighs. A ma­jor feat of acro-bal­ance is the hand­stand, which Her­rera said she has not quite ac­com­plished dur­ing the BUST! in­ten­sive, though she con­tin­ues to try. “I took cir­cus classes a few years ago and did them all the time, but then I lost the abil­ity. It’s not like rid­ing a bike. Go­ing up­side down re­ally screws with my head. When I go up­side down, sud­denly my head turns into white noise.”

The process of at­tempt­ing a new trick, fail­ing at it, achiev­ing a few tiny vic­to­ries, and fi­nally suc­ceed­ing at some­thing that seemed like it might never be pos­si­ble has made acro-bal­ance Southall’s fa­vorite part of BUST! “I was self-conscious at first. I prob­a­bly weigh more than some of these peo­ple, and you have to trust them to be strong enough to hold you. It was scary, but we fall over and laugh. Even if you’re off-bal­ance or take a tum­ble, you’re still hav­ing fun.”

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