Circus is Not Dead

tenacious

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.

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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.

flying

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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.

circus-ing

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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.

cautionworkinprogress

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

More soon. Here’s to living the questions.

~

 

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Interview with Cycling Violinist Jasmine Reese

Jasmine Reese is an adventurer, violinist, and cyclist from Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2013 she bicycled across the United States with her dog, Fiji, and her violin in tow. In March 2016, Jasmine is setting off on a second long-distance bicycle journey––this time around the world. She plans to cycle through 47 countries.

It was a pleasure to meet Jasmine via a Facebook group of touring cyclists, and equally wonderful to learn more about her life on the road.

You can read more about Jasmine’s work at www.FiJaPAW.com. I’m looking forward to following her journey as it unfolds.

jasminereese

Photo by Robert McAdams

DKL: What draws you to the bicycle as a means of transportation?

JR: I hate the gym. The bicycle was a low intensity workout that combined getting from one place to the next. To combine travel with cardio was amazing to me. Also, even when I could feel the burn, unlike being on a treadmill, I had tons of distractions to keep pedaling; the birds chirping in the trees, the wind caressing my face, the old barn sitting on a brown field. When you have such beautiful landscapes and stories distracting you from the burn, that’s the best type of exercise. Like all endurance sports, bicycling has taught me patience, fortitude and to smell the flowers even in the midst of adversity (adversity on a bicycle is a steep climb, hahaha).

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DKL: How did you start playing violin?

JR: I wanted to play violin way before I actually started, but a number of factors kept me away from it. Our school shut down the string program, so I could only choose from woodwind and brass instruments. I started clarinet at 11, but that only lasted a year. We weren’t compatible.

When I was 13, I had my own babysitting business and was making about $800 a month. I saw a violin on sale for $110 when my mom and I were running errands one day. The rest is predictable. Even though I had the violin, it wouldn’t be until several months later when I actually took up violin lessons. My mom couldn’t afford lessons and because we had moved, my babysitting incoming had decreased. So, I called all the area violin teachers and asked to do chores in exchange for violin lessons. I found my first teacher, and babysat her children. We actually became family as opposed to teacher – student. I love her for giving me the chance to learn violin.

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DKL: What do you like most about making music?

JR: The way it makes me feel and the opportunity to make others feel the same way.

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DKL: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out with a musical instrument?

JR: Slow and steady. Like being on a bicycle, the road, the journey seems long and painful. There are hills and traffic. Weather can sometimes delay your travel. But at the end of the day, no matter how difficult the journey, you’re proud you accomplished something. You look at your legs and feel proud of those hard calves. You look at your surroundings and breathe in the fresh air, and you know you wouldn’t trade your situation with anyone else. I guess that’s why I love bicycling so much. It’s very comparable to learning a musical instrument.

DKL: How do you build music into your everyday practice on the road?

JR: I don’t think this is difficult. Traveling with Fiji means lots of breaks and stopping. I just take out my violin while Fiji chases a squirrel or rubs in the grass. I actually hate practicing outside because the acoustics are meh. But I am starting to appreciate it more.

DKL: Talk to me about listening. How do you see music and listening as interconnected?

Is it possible to just hear music and be effected? Listening to music includes breathing it in. Embracing it, creating images in your mind, feeling the heartbeat, interpreting what the tones are trying to tell you. Listening to music is an experience. I remember watching a TEDx presentation. Evelyn Glennie talked about “how to truly listen.” She’s a percussionist and deaf. I suggest you post that video here.

JR: More importantly, if you listen closely enough, you’ll find music all around you in the most unexpected places. Another perk to long-distance adventure bicycling.

DKL: How do you define performance?

JR: Performance focuses on the visual and sensory aspect of delivering a form of art or music to an audience. But if the music and art is good; it can stand on its own without performance. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying though. Performance is definitely needed and some art forms such as dance cannot be separated from it. They go hand-in-hand. I hope more people will get away from their computers and go see live performances.

DKL: So, you travel with your dog, Fiji––that’s super cool! How did Fiji get her name?

JR: She was named by the pound.

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DKL: How did Fiji come into your life?

JR: I rescued her off of craigslist. She was going to be sent back to the pound and would be put in the gas chamber as a result. Missouri still uses gas chambers to euthanize dogs. Anyway, Fiji was supposed to be a surprise for my mom. We had just lost our sweet rottweiler to heat stroke and I was devastated. My mom was, too, but she kept talking about needing a furbaby in her life. Me, I did not want to be connected with a dog ever again. I hate losing them. Fiji came to our house while my mom was on a business trip. The first night, I tried to keep her away from me. I pretended to not like her. But she quickly infiltrated my heart and I ended up letting her sleep next to me in bed. Such a cute little thing.

The next day my mom came home. I hid Fiji in the garage. My mom came in, and I told her something weird was in the garage. She opened up the door and Fiji completely ignored her and came running to me. For the next several nights, I tried to abandon her with my mom. But at night, you’d hear her sneaking out of my mom’s bed, her little feet creeping down the stairs and her knocking at my door. I’d carry her back upstairs, but she kept coming to me. My mom suggested we find her another home, but that would break my rule. We never give dogs up. So she became my furbaby.

It took me some time to warm up to her, but she stuck to me like a leach. I was very hurt by the loss of my first dog, Xheus. He died while exercising with me. I felt so guilty and depressed. I made a mistake that many people make, but that was no excuse. It took me forever to get to the point where I would allow Fiji to run with me alongside the bicycle, but I started to educate myself and now I am an expert on healthy exercise for dogs. I think Fiji had a great part in healing my guilt. And of course, we only became that much closer when I bicycled across the U.S with her in 2013. I wouldn’t leave without her because like me, she was also a broken spirit who I put a lot of time into rehabilitating. She would run under the car or whatever she could find when people yelled, even if it was just my brother calling to my mom. She was very dog aggressive at 3 months old. However, she has come a long way. She’s really an impressive and intelligent dog.

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DKL: What do you like most about traveling with Fiji? What is the most challenging aspect of it?

JR: She keeps me going. Her enthusiasm for travel and bicycling keeps me pedaling. She’s hilarious. She’s protective. No one comes near my gear when she’s around. She is cute, so she attracts animal lovers who in turn like to give her treats and other things to keep us going. I think the only challenge outside of the norm is she limits where I can go and what I can do, but it’s not enough for me to leave her home. We also argue and she can be mischievous.


Be sure to stay up to date with Jasmine’s travels on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and on her blog: www.FiJaPAW.com.

You can also support her journey via GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/fijapaw

 

 

Fact:

I have always enjoyed dancing barefoot & in public places.

dancingyosemite2009

There were controlled burnings in Yosemite National Park that summer. It was a long wait. I danced without music––

because I have a heartbeat, and sometimes that is enough of a reason
to celebrate.