Circus is Not Dead


waist-high dandelions at roadside, Montreal

Two weeks ago I was in Montreal connecting with Jeremie Robert, a super-talented acrobat and circus performer currently performing with Compagnie XY.

Jeremie and I met through his work with ArtCirq, an indigenous circus in Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada.

I have been applying for grants to travel to Nunavut for about two years now (still no luck) and would love to write about these performers in the Arctic. It’s super-expensive to get to the far north, though.


Image via ArtCirq

Climate change is occurring in the Arctic twice as fast as in the rest of the globe, with a predicted 5 to 7 degree Celsius temperature rise in the next century.

Igloolik is a community on the front-lines of climate change, and also a place deeply invested in the healing powers of performance art. I can’t imagine a better place to record stories.

What is circus, anyway?

I asked this question to a Compagnie XY acrobat at a barbecue a few nights before their first show.

“Almost anything can be circus in the right context,” she said, “and there are whole theoretical classes at circus school devoted to this exact question. Circus art is something that you have to train and study for years in order to perfect.”

(I’m familiar with this line of questioning, though I’m usually on the receiving end of it: What is Folklore & Mythology?“)

Circuses are generally performed in round tents, too––or so I learned from a mini-exhibition at TOHU.

Ringling Bros. is dead, but circus is not. Modern circuses don’t have animals. It’s more about skill and training than flashy oddities.


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If I decide to go to grad school in the coming years, Performance Studies is a field I’m considering. I love the idea of wrestling with the circus question, and interviewing / writing about performers in this sphere.


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Montreal though, what a place. Light tastes different in every city.


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My favorite thing to do in Montreal was just wander.

c'est moi

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Montreal is spiral staircases on the outside of homes.

(I love walking up and down these kinds of stairs. It feels like being inside of a seashell.)

island full of curvy staircases

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…long afternoons in the park, eating fruit and watching the world go by,

long summer days mean more time for adventures 🌞

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… rainbows everywhere,


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I will take all the rainbows, please 🌈

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… and of course, poutine. (Pro tip: poutine tastes best after drinking local beer in the park with a new friend, and will keep you full forever & ever.)

baby's first poutine 👍🏽

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I think I’m falling in love with public spaces / places where people can picnic. Afternoon light. Fists full of blueberries — blue blessings.

Montreal is full of bicycles. Jeremie let me borrow his for the week.

borrowing my friend's 🚲to explore the city on 2 wheels

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In attending a few performances at Montreal Completement Cirque, I learned that I’m fascinated with flying… maybe because I know it is something my body won’t do.

Is it too late to learn?

#rouge #montrealcompletementcirque

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Why do I travel?

To see more fully. To be surprised. To search for the blessing that sits just outside of my comfort zone. To begin over and over again.

When I travel to a new place, the days are long. Empty and waiting to be filled.

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Before I left the states I bought myself two rings, one for the middle finger on each hand. My left hand is a tree, to remind me to stay grounded:

growing roots

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The right is a feather for flying free. Serendipity.

When I visit a city, there are always layers––the detritus of cities I have been. The shape of houses in Montreal is not unlike DC. The parks that make me breathe deeper remind me of Paris. And anywhere I feel disoriented in language has an odd similarity––I could be in Fiji, or Tuvalu, or Thailand again.

I’m grateful for the sense of dislocation that not knowing a local language can provide. I get lost in the recesses of myself that I didn’t realize were still there.

I am the postcard monster.

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Montreal, I’ll be back. I want to connect with the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) this fall, where I have been an affiliate for three years.

… and maybe find some Canadian folks to collaborate with on the audio map in progress.


still one of my favorite signs — spotted in Suva, Fiji, 2014

More soon. Here’s to living the questions.




Interview with Percussionist Reynaliz Herrera

I had the great pleasure of meeting percussionist Reynaliz Herrera by pure chance in 2010. We made friends playing horseshoes at a barbecue near Fresh Pond and have stayed in touch ever since. Reynaliz is a creative spirit who inspires me to be my most genuine self. One of my favorite things to do in Boston is to bike to her apartment with a bag full of groceries, make dinner, and talk about John Cage.

“The plan is, there is no plan,” Reynaliz is fond of saying, “except to follow the things that I love.” And the world is better for her passion––Reynaliz approaches music making with the kind of fire that makes the world spin.

Here are two examples of that energy from her most recent composition and production, IDEAS, NOT THEORIES. The show explores the use of bicycles, tap, body percussion, water, marimbas, and drums.



What inspired you to start doing percussion? When did it happen?

At the age of twelve I suddenly became obsessed with the idea of becoming a singer and forming a band. However, I did not know how to play any instruments, sing, or read music. I had the idea that if I practiced by myself in my backyard using pots and pans, toy guitars and a fake microphone, that would make my dream come true. I would ask my sister (who didn’t know any music either) to be my bandmate. After a while of seeing this, my mom encouraged me to enter the Conservatory in Mexico. I attempted to do voice and I failed. My alternative was percussion and guitar. I took both and, in the end, percussion won my heart. Of course, I expanded from pots and pans to all the classical percussion instruments (marimba, xylophones, snare drums, timpani), world percussion (Congas, bongos, bata, etc.), and now, unconventional percussion, among them, bicycles.

Why do you make music?

Because I need to. I feel that being an artist is like being pregnant. When we express ourselves through art, music, words, etc., we give birth to whatever was inside. Music is my child.

What are you most proud of?

Of the ability to be genuine.

How did the idea for the Ideas Not Theories come about? What do you hope for people who listen to the piece?

Through my years in Music College people would ask me what my direction in music was going to be, I would always said I wanted to become a soloist, (it was the most concrete answer I could give), then they would ask what would exactly would I be doing, I would respond, “I don’t know I just want to be able to do my thing, whatever it is.” I knew I wanted to be myself, but I did not know what that was going to be like. I felt like people would want me to know what my “child” was going to be like, but I sort of knew I had to just let it come. Growing up, I played with my mother in her dance company in Mexico, she would inspire me to be creative and expand on using whatever I wanted to use. Later on at age sixteen I wrote my first two pieces of music, and continued writing. Ideas, Not Theories is the answer to those who asked me what exactly I wanted to do with music.

For people who listen to the piece I hope for them to just be open, and let the sound be an Idea, not a Theory.

What draws you to the bicycle as an instrument?

At first, it was necessity. The idea of playing on a bicycle came from going out to busk and not having a lot of instruments available. The bicycle was my solution. After I discovered I could do this, my inspiration was exploration: exploration of sound, movement and energy.

Who inspires you?

Anything can be a source of inspiration if you look at it the right way.

What is your favorite place on earth?

Greece, Paris, Cuba and Boston.



454_441537822595843_1156029855_nReynaliz Herrera is a professional musician, percussionist, composer, and educator. She was born in Monterrey, Mexico in 1984, where she studied music at the Escuela Superior de Musica y Danza with maestro Noel Savon. Reynaliz has performed and collaborated with The National Arts Center Orchestra of Canada, The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, The Orchestre de la Francophonie Canadienne, The Boston Conservatory Orchestra, Mexican Dance Group: Danza Contemporanea en Concierto, and The Boston Opera Collaborative. Her solo works have been featured internationally in the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Canada, Spain, Italy, and Germany, and she has collaborated with prestigious artists such as Bob Becker, Evelyn Glennie, Ian Bernard, Pinchas Zukerman, Peter Sadlo, and Gunter Schuller. Reynaliz has been marimba and percussion soloist several times with The National Arts Center Orchestra of Canada (One of them Broadcasted by CBC Radio Canada National wide), and recently made an appearance at the concert series “My first NAC” performing one of her recent compositions.

Reynaliz holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Ottawa where she graduated Summa Cum Laude and studied with Prof. Ian Bernard, former solo timpanist of the National Arts Center Orchestra. She recently graduated from The Boston Conservatory with a Master of Music in Percussion Performance where she studied with world-renowned percussionists like Nancy Zeltsman, Sam Solomon, John Grimes and Keith Aleo. Reynaliz’s international awards include The National Youth Award (Mexico, 2005 and 2009), The Festival Percuba’s International Percussion Competition in La Havana, Cuba (2002), The National Arts Center of Canada’s Bursary Competition (2005), and the MTV Latinamerica “Agent of Change Award” (2009).

Reynaliz is currently working on her own music project “IDEAS, NOT THEORIES” ©, an original performance show of Reynaliz’s compositions that makes use of bicycles and body percussion and has been performed, to date, in Mexico, the US and Canada. She is also the drummer of the alternative Boston-based rock band, Muy Cansado, with whom she recently performed at the SXSW festival in Austin TX. Reynaliz also works as a percussion teacher in the Somerville public school system. She also teaches at the Hamilton-Garret Music Academy and offers private lessons.