Working title: Habitat
Habitat, the location or environment where an organism or a thing is most likely to be found
Habitat, the home to a particular organism where the species will attempt to be as adaptive as possible
Habitat, an office cubicle
Habitat, a high rise apartment
Habitat, a jungle
Habitat was inspired by watching videos of gibbons in their arboreal home swinging gracefully and efficiently in the forest canopy. Their natural locomotion evolved in relation to their environment. Habitat examines the effect of our built habitats on our movement. How do our environments (in this age of digital technology), constructed solely for human use dictate the movement of the body? As we construct matter into functional things, these things become dictators of our movement. People sit all day in office chairs, at desks, starring into a computer screen. The images of people interacting with technology on a physical level will be juxtaposed with dancers moving, swinging and climbing in the vertical rope habitat.
Habitat will examine the idea of “the wild.” How does the organization of nature from chaos into compartments reflect in how we as humans connect to the wild? In setting this piece in a theatre I will also be questioning the relationship between audience and performer. Are the performers are like animals in a cage and the audience watching passively like at a zoo?
Kevin O’Connor Choreography and Set Design
Allie Cooper, aerialist/dancer
Anjuli Verma, aerialist/dancer
Asia Seltzer, aerialist/dancer
Sarah Martin, aerialist/dancer
Pat Tao, aerialist/dancer
Live music: Homunculus Rex
Josh Sonstroem, DJ, who electronically plays, Ableton: Drums, Glitches, and Samples; Synths, Melodica, iPhone
Ryan Morgan, guitar/ electric bass and MIDI bass player
Interview in UK based SideShow Magazine (http://sideshow-circusmagazine.com/magazine/interviews/hanging-sphere)
Could you tell me about your route into circus and your background as a performer?
I grew up in a community in London Ontario and was immersed in improvised dance training and visual arts from a young age. After high school I completed a Science degree in Natural Resource Conservation at the University of British Columbia. I studied wild salmon populations, mountain lions, and worked on land use plans. In Vancouver I developed a rigorous ashtanga yoga and capoeria practice. After graduating I decided to pursue my artistic interests full time. I was keen on exploring and researching body knowledge through practice as opposed to academic work. I moved to London England to train at the circus space. I developed a trapeze piece there and then auditioned to Ecole nationale de cirque in Montreal. In London I also started my studies on the Axis Syllabus with the teacher and dancer Frey Faust. In Montreal I specialized in corde lisse and minored in clown. After graduating I moved to New York city and immersed myself in the city. I worked for a New York site specific dance company called Sens Productions and started teaching a lot of corde lisse classes. I watched a lot of performance art, became involved in the contact improvisation scene, went to shows in the downtown dance scene and performed in the night clubs. I produced my first installation piece with 7 aerialists in a small warehouse space in Brooklyn. I then started to receive funding from the Canada and Ontario Arts Councils and produced The Sunlight Zone which toured California and Ontario Canada. I then moved to the San Francisco Bay area and have studied and been deeply influenced by Sara Shelton Mann and Nita Little. I am also influenced by the Queer/political art scene here. I am currently doing my MFA in choreography at UC Davis, immersing myself in performance theory.
2. I read that your work as an aerialist is informed by Axis Syllabus (AS) – which I think is sort of a holistic functional movement practice? How has that changed the way you move in the air and on rope?
The objective of the Axis Syllabus is to propose a practical method for instilling safe reflexes and logical responses to the problems of moving. It a research platform for the study of applied biomechanics. The knowledge gained from the AS allowed me to respect the structural integrity of the body while moving. I was accepted into the National Circus School of Montreal after I started my studies of the Axis Syllabus. The AS provided me with an invaluable tool for self defence during the rigorous pedagogical process in the circus school environment. I was always questioning the value of holding extended hyper flexible positions while on an aerial apparatus. I became much more interested in transitions between rest points and the harnessing of gravity as I moved through the vertical sphere. The AS also greatly influenced my interest in finding ways to link the vertical sphere to the horizontal sphere through movement. On a practical level I use to be frequently injured and now I am for the most part injury free.
And then I also heard that Habitat was to some extent inspired by the movement of gibbons — so how does that fit in?
I wrote a paper as part of my AS training examining the hanging sphere.
The opening paragraph described the relationship between arboreal apes and human locomotion and peeked my interest in really studying ape locomotion. Below is an excerpt (to read the whole article visit www.axissyllabus.com/page53.php)
According to current anthropological evidence, the evolution of human locomotion behaviour was strongly influenced by the arboreal phase of our distant ancestors (Richmond et al. 2001). Many aspects of modern human skeletal form, particularly in the trunk and upper limb, are products of an climbing arboreal heritage. For example, humans share with great apes a vertebral column that is ventrally situated to move it closer to the center of gravity in upright postures (Schultz, 1961). The broad, shallow shape of the rib cage positions the scapula on the back of the rib cage so that the shoulder faces laterally, thereby allowing greater mobility of the shoulder (Schultz, 1961). Humans also share with great apes a globular humeral head that projects above the tubercles, again enhancing mobility. These traits are the remains of our climbing heritage. (from the axis syllabus website)
Habitat was inspired by watching videos of gibbons in their arboreal home swinging gracefully and efficiently in the forest canopy. Their natural locomotion evolved in relation to their environment. I am currently doing a MFA in choreography and became reacquainted with the computer lab where students spend countless hours sitting and staring into a computer screen. Habitat examines the effect of our built habitats on our movement. I was questioning how our built environments (in this age of digital technology), constructed solely for human use dictate the movement of the body? As we construct matter into functional things, these things become dictators of our movement. People sit all day in office chairs, at desks, starring into a computer screen. As we become more dependant on technology does our movement patterns become smaller and smaller?
What was the devising process for Habitat?
Most of the artists in the piece had trained with me in rope for a number of years. In many ways the piece was an accumulation of the training we had done together. Each of the artists were interested in exploring movement from the horizontal to the vertical sphere, partnering on the rope and focusing on how gravity influenced the body in space. We spent a couple years really playing with how to harness gravity. We worked with using the fall of a limb, or the pelvis and harnessing the energy of the fall to move somewhere else. At one point we trained at a friends house off of a tree. We would swing of a fence from one rope to another rope. Then we found a studio where we could hang 8 ropes in a row and just practice the idea of “walking” while swinging. Research has shown many biomechanical similarities between brachiation (swinging from one hold to the another in trees) to walking. We all developed powerful one arm grips.
We did a lot of research examining the space on the ropes just off the floor.
The above research was coupled with a duet I created with Ana Flecha on the rope called the White Wolf ( i will try to find you a copy of it). Ana couldn’t be in the final showing so her role was shared between two of the dancers.
The final movement choices and patterns was based on improvisation, collaboration and a lot of trusting each other.
The actual piece came together in three weeks. We watched youtube videos of gibbons. We created pattens we played with on the ropes. I set a improvised score for the movement of the set and the way we interacted with the set as a whole. Often in creating longer, group aerial pieces it is important that each individual artist has moments of rest and moments of being on the ropes. The arms get burnt out and so its important to incorporate rest movements in each individual pathway. I designed a set that we worked within. and collaborated with Homunculus Rex (www.homunculusrex.com), a two man digital/ live music glitch ecoustic experiment based in Santa Cruz.
In Habitat and in the little bits I’ve seen of Dark Matter you’re working at times with ensemble aerial — not just in the sense of having six or eight aerialists on the stage, but also in having those aerialists perform group actions (throwing, catching or otherwise moving each other). What has it been like to explore this mode, and how does it differ from (or connect to) solo or standard duo aerial work? Why do you want to work with such a large group of aerialists in the first place?
I am interested in aerial as a component of larger creative projects. At the National Circus school of Montreal there was so much focus on developing a five minute solo that you create over three years and then you sell it and tour it. That structure didn’t allow me to play and be creative within the vertical realm. Working with larger casts and multiple hanging points allows me to explore the possibilities of moving in space from the vertical to the horizontal and in between. It allows the work to not focus on the individual tricks but the use of space and transitions between fixed places.
I have been working on different solos lately but much prefer collaborating with different artists while creating work.
Comparing Dark Matter and Habitat, Dark Matter seems the more abstract of the two, while Habitat uses images representationally (e.g. hanging ropes as a jungle environment, or entwined ones as a tree) and brings in props (the bric-a-brac at the front of the stage) as signs of a recognisable world. In creating work do you start from a thematic basis — an idea or concept or story — or do you begin by looking for the expressive potential in technical material?
I often am interested in researching an idea. I rarely start with a story or anything literal. Right now I am examining the idea of a body as a place. The porouseness of places. The body as a pack not a singularity. The ecological body. I am always researching and playing with technique as a daily practice. However I always need to find a connection between the practice and the idea or theme I am researching. This connection makes me work and I struggle with it a lot.
Habitat was based on a lot of the playing with and creating of a certain technique. However the technique did not drive the choices made. I always tried to return to the idea. I took a set design class and had to create a set for Habitat before I had created any of the work. I never work this way and took it up as challenge to more or less start with a fixed set and then work within it. The pile of old junk computers and bits of different computer labs went from a chaotic pile to something organized. That is what I was researching. The human desire to organise chaos. This was overlayed with the the ape like movement on the ropes. As we moved through the organized set components we improvised with only moving or bodies based on what the object suggested us to do (ie. Sit on a chair) or occasionally make the choice to move with the object in a different way then it suggested.
In the current project their is absolutely nothing linear about it. It is a mix between a circus, an installation and a performance art piece, with most of it being improvised.
As someone who’s working in circus, but also in dance and movement practice, do you see these forms/practices as having different characters? Is a circus artist different to a dance artist in a fundamental way? Can a circus artist communicate in a way that a dance artist can’t, or vice versa? What are the challenges of choreographing for a circus artist?
I think more and more I am interested in performance art, which can encompass circus and dance, visual art and installation. I think all practices are important and useful. What I am questioning is not why I use the dance or circus technique but how does it relate to whatever I am exploring or researching. A big difference in terms of training is the amount of time a circus artist spends perfecting one trick or working on one number. For a movement artist the focus is often not on one trick but on the transitions between places or moments.
Many aerialist forget about their connection to the floor. Without training on the floor the most graceful person in the air can look awkward on the floor. Being hyper mobile is often useful for poses and balances but not often very useful for dynamic movement on the floor.
I was wondering if you could say a little about where and how you work, and what sort of community there is in your part of the US… What are the conditions like for making contemporary circus? Is there support available? Is there a strong community of artists?
I am currently live in Oakland California. There is a great dance and circus community. Many circus artists are also interested in performance art, dance, contact improvisation etc. I am inspired by the work of Keith Hennessey. He is originally from Canada and now based in the Bay Area (circus zero). His work is both political and queer. There is hardly any support for making contemporary circus in America. If people get funding they receive it through their reputation as performance artists or choreographers.
I also work on pieces with a collaborator, Ruth Douthwright, in Canada. It is much easier to get funding for contemporary circus work in Canada. We have an ongoing project working in different watersheds in Canada. Using different scores we create a site enhancing piece that depends on audience participation in activating the place. They often occur on lakes or along rivers.
Finally, what are your future plans for Habitat or any other work?
I am currently working on a piece called dis/connect. It is with three other amazing aerialist in North America (Emily Leap and Laura Stokes and Cohdi Harrell) and performance artist Jorge de Hoyos Jr. I am also working with three singers who improvise together and with the audience to create a soundscape.
I am interested in ideas around the ecological body. The body as an alliance of energies and not fixed.
We are exploring the porousity of place (bodies, building, the interaction between audience and performer).
This piece explores the idea of place.
Not fixed entities but porous places. Places as processes.
The body, like a building as a kind of place. A terrain through which things pass, and in which they sometimes settle and sediment.
Studies in ecology (that link ocean dwelling salmon to the tops of Douglas Fir trees in inland riparian forest) demonstrate the fractal inter-connectiveness of everything and asks us to consider the co-extensiveness of ourselves in our environment. Does the slightest touch of the body in its environment stay within the environment forever? Is that touch utilized by that environment forever? How do our bodies remember the multitude of environments they are interacting with?
How does the Mondavi Center (the big art center in Davis California) touch its surrounding environment?
How does it embrace it surrounding ecology?
What stories remain in the landscape that can be told?
What does the Oak tree and the creek have to say?
What has been displaced?
How does this place embrace and support its surrounding community?
This piece offers space for an interchange with one another, performer and audience, the Mondavi Center and its surrounding ecology.
“The body is a place where clouds, earthworms, guitars, clucking hens and clear cut hill sides all converge, forging alliances, mergers and metamorphoses.” (David Abram)