We gathered in the Vulcana training space on Saturday 6th November for a showing of five new works-in-progress. Friends, family, peers and industry lynch-pins were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the developmental process for new works.
Vulcana Women’s Circus has several projects on the go at any one point in time. They run congruent streams of outreach work, skills-based training school and professional development for circus artists.
This was one of two showings this year, that were developed from Vulcana’s Incubator program. Over the past few years Vulcana has poured a lot of energy into invigorating its professional development for emerging and professional artists. The Incubator program offers artists access to the training space as well as consultation time with the artistic director, Celia White. An earlier showing in July debuted a number of new works and works-in-progress; this was the second chapter in the series, with longer and more elaborate pieces.
The evening consisted of five performances, followed by a discussion between artists and audience, prompted by Celia White. A slight twist on the usual one-way facilitated artist talk, this conversation invited contribution from the audience of peers. Questions circled idea-making and process development, but for myself the thoughts that are still resonating are the ones that discussed genre-definitions.
When works do not fit into a genre ‘box’, are they advantaged or disadvantaged? The over-used descriptor ‘fusion’ lacks the punch that is offered when different performance styles merge. There are, after all, some specific elements that separate and identify theatre, circus, dance, opera, burlesque and so on. But all performance styles borrow from other genres. Venues and festivals can be quite specific (and narrow) with bookings. Fashions for one style of performance can type-cast acts, and prevent them accessing audiences that would delight in their work. Seasonal fashions can result in a slew of hastily developed works that fit trends.
It is important to have these kind of discussions, where the fourth wall is not only removed, but we get to go back stage. Oftentimes conversations only occur between artist and director, and perhaps a few close confidants. While not essential, having the opportunity to present works in development oftentimes adds to the developmental process. The feel of any piece changes immensely between rehearsal studio and stage lights, and the symbiosis of artist and audience is in many ways the whole aim of the game. The pressure of completing a work can affect the direction of a piece; what does an artist choose to explore when they don’t have the pressures of audience numbers, marketing, and industry fashions?
For works in progress, these developmental pieces were of a very high standard. Not only that, but the undulating tone from piece to piece made for a grand evening’s entertainment. Moving from whimsical to hysterical to lively to surreal to dark… Out of the evenings showings, I fully expect several full-length shows will develop. This was a delicious evening of developmental art with some lip-smacking food-for-thought to keep you going in the weeks to come.
Anja and Natalie
How delightful to see a piece that is both cheerful and whimsical. So much of art these days is deliberately provocative, full of highfalutin messaging, or sexually explicit. This piece draws from the three physical languages of the performers; contemporary dance, contemporary theatre and circus, and weaves a wistful magic.
This is a strong offering from Muto, full of surreal possibilities. This is a work that has been developed for the sake of the work, how fascinating, and how rare, to observe. There are elements of theatre of the absurd, or perhaps the macabre. There is something that reminds me of those wondrous films about strange and dreamlike mythology.
It is a delicious piece, because the artist is on an explicit journey, but the audience is allowed to imagine their own interpretation. Is she climbing to heaven? Or high inside her subconscious? At times she is delighted, challenged, bereft, enthused. A rich piece, from which a superb full-length show will emerge.
Prying Eye: Guest Performance
Well. Indeed. A menacing start turns into a lively debacle when these very special callers commence with a hell-raising spectacle. Not a euphemism.
This piece takes preconceptions about contemporary dance and throws them out the window. This contemporary dance company are developing new works in provocative ways, and so elements of physical theatre, clowning, butoh and mime are all woven into the mix.
Head exorcist Sammie Williams is utterly magnetic, and her gentleman companions (Michael Smith and Zaimon Vilmanis) are the ultimate in committed sidekicks. A good cross-collab is always positive for artistic inspo; I can’t wait to see how this company engages with Vulcana into the future.
The Juxta Posers
A throbbing soundtrack accompanies this great piece from Rachael, Nirvana, Audrey and Yonna. A simple conceptual start: four women, of different sizes, exploring how different bodies are treated differently in the day-to-day.
A dynamic group piece that uses acrobatics, balancing, tumbling and physical theatre to set the tone, and then quicken the pace. This is joyful, energetic, lively work, with a solid backstory exploring social attitudes and stereotypes. It’s lots of fun and it leaves you thinking. Best of both worlds.
A brand-new work from Bianca, this haunting piece is set to a new composition by Woodkid & Nils Frahm, for the just-released short film ELLIS. The sombre narration tells a disturbing tale, and we gather enough of the story to know that there is a great sadness afoot.
The crowd is gathered into a circle to watch her pace a newly delineated cage. I am reminded of Foucault’s panopticon, where the lonely prisoner is never sure if all eyes are watching.
We are never quite sure what kind of facility she is captured within, or if she is even captured… Is she a prisoner, an alien, a fugitive…? My focus moves from her physical performance, to the swirling music, to the dark tale being narrated, to the wide eyes on the other side of the circle.
Great restraint is combined with masterful physicality. She holds balances for an almost unbearably long time, and tears form from pain or resonance. Bianca is one of the premiere performers of her generation, and a true artist.
Disclaimer: I am a student of the training school and hold a position of the board of Vulcana Women’s Circus. Big time fanboy of this company! And so should you be 🙂