Fraying Parachutes: Costume Agency and ‘Convivencia’ in Contemporary Circus Performance-making
Written from the perspective of choreographer and facilitator, this paper critically reflects on costume agency and ‘convivencia’ (living with) in contemporary circus performance making. It draws on the author’s experiences on the Canadian Arts Council funded research project Circus Sessions 2019, which brought together fourteen female artists from six different countries. Working with notions of ‘convivencia’ in artistic collaboration, the embodied research took as its foci positive receptivity, hospitality and fascination as creative tools in the collective devising methods. More specifically, Fraying Parachutes focuses on the artists’ interactive participation in the costume making processes with designer Sara Torrie, in which three abandoned parachutes were transformed and up-cycled into circus costumes. The different elements of the de-constructed parachutes served as visual reminders of flight, suspension, risk and rescue; their stained surfaces also suggested a conflictive baggage of re-imagined narratives, military manoeuvres and failed flight.
Recognizing risk as inherent in circus technique and performance, this project sought to question what risks and acts of empowerment might be attached to identity making and artistic expression for the female performer in circus. The purposely fraying, yet resilient parachute costumes acted as key agents in this process. Through adopting, adapting and integrating these performative materials into their work, the artists were able to contest the highly sexualized costumes of traditional circus relating to embodied performances of femininity (Lavers et al, 2020). The materials also allowed for a playfully subversion, that undermined the expectation of the ‘super-human’ in circus, and instead supported notions of vulnerability and failure in performance. The parachute costumes became a sort of artistic ‘glue’ inviting new ways of recognising with-ness, and mediating tensions that arose from cultural-artistic difference. In doing so the practice, effort, negotiation and achievement that according to Wise and Noble (2016) after Gilroy (2004) distinguishes ‘convivencia’ from conviviality became productively manifest.
Michelle Man is Senior Lecturer in Dance at Edge Hill University, Lancashire, UK having been based from 1989 to 2012 in Madrid where she developed her career as a dancer, choreographer and pedagogue. Her choreographic work has been seen in Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Spain, Sweden and the UK, in both theatre and site-sensitive contexts. Man fosters interdisciplinary performance environments, working with architects, composers, designers, musicians and circus artists. In her thirty years of professional experience she has worked extensively with costume designers in dance, opera, circus and theatre, and where possible uses each new project to experiment with different materials and concepts of costuming the moving body. Man perceives costume as inseparable from the performance making experience and where possible accompanies the design, sourcing, fabrication and processes of appropriation on each project. She is currently a PhD Researcher at University of Surrey with the thesis ‘Light and the Choreographic: dancing with Tungsten’ under the supervision of Dr. Rachel Hann and Dr Adam Alston.
Natalie Fullerton and Allara Gooliaff in Circus Sessions. Performance, 29.06.19. Photographer: Brain Medina
Detail of costume in process by Sara Torrie. Photographer: Brain Medina
Credits for Circus Sessions Project 2019, Week 2 Professional Artists
Facilitator/choreographer/lighting designer: Michelle Man
Costume design and making: sara torrie
Production: Holly Treddenick for Femmes de Feu, Miranda Forbes and Natalie Frijia
Venue: Toronto Centre for the Arts
Stacie Dunlop: soprano
Mariana Fernández: trapeze
Jessie Fraser: actor and multi-media
Allara Gooliaff: stilts
Samantha Halas: cotorsion
Kiki Harvey (Isabella Hoops): hoops
Jessica John: trapeze
Raquel Madrid: dancer and performer
Marin Pez (Tania Marin): silks
Nikola Steer (Coco Framboise): performer and multi-media
Kook (Angola Murdoch): clown and aerial
Winnie (Natalie Fullerton): clown and aerial