AC Artistic Director
Blog Post 2/4/17
I’m currently on a plane leaving San Jose, Costa Rica, returning home to a significantly different USA. Reflecting on the political changes and on our work as a company, I’m struck by the stories we tell and the potency of the symbols we use.
I am aiming to share our work in several locations in Latin America: performing Love & Gravity, and offering workshops to youth and emerging contemporary circus communities. I’m also organizing opportunities for new collaborators from different countries to continue to research the possibilities of the endless rope.
THE ENDLESS ROPE
Most people who are familiar with Acrobatic Conundrum will recognize the invented apparatus we call the endless rope, or simply the loop. It’s a length of red 12-strand rope threaded through two large wooden pulleys, with the ends spliced together, so it forms a vertical circle. In order to climb one side, the other side needs to be counter-weighted, which makes it an apparatus that is inherently relational; two or more people are needed to operate it.
You could say the the endless rope was born out of laziness, although the process of learning how to best use it has been years of work. In 2006, I was at ENC, and my claim to fame among my peers was le big drop. Which, for my fellow rope nerds, consisted of a double star plus a salto, plus 2 more twists in the other direction, plus a salto, plus two more more twists in the original direction, which I wrapped on the ground and was pulled up for by my abiding coach, Pierre Carrier.
Falling was the part that delighted me. I imagined a rope threaded through two pulleys with no end point, so I could be constantly pulled upward by someone, while I dropped perpetually downwards. It wasn’t until a few years later that the idea became concrete. I was in a brainstorming session in working with Circus Syzygy (siz-uh-jee), which was my first project in company building. While working in Switzerland, we had moonlight brainstorming sessions despite a grueling schedule of shows, tent construction and travel. I remember this particular session because when the concept of the endless rope came up, I expected to be met with a lot of skepticism, but clown-friend Mick Holsbeke said he thought it was a great idea. Months passed, Ben and Rachel of Duo Madrona acquired 70 feet of rope, a can-do German stage manager spliced the ends together, an engineer Thomas Yorke fashioned two giant wooden pulleys, and the endless rope was real.
It was first featured in a show by Syzygy, entitled Living Bridges. This initial version of the act featured me as a soloist, being pulled and supported by the rest of the cast. In 2012, the next incarnation used the loop to highlight the whole cast of AC show The Way Out; here it became less about a single performer, and more about a group moment. In that version, two performers, Tanya Brno and Elizabeth Rose climbed either side, balancing each other and synching their movements as tightly as possible. UMO ensemble director Elizabeth Klob saw that show and imagined using it in an Endgame inspired piece about Samuel Beckett’s life. In the play, Fail Better, the loop became a part of the set and underscored futility and paradox. Most recently, the loop is a recurrent presence in Love & Gravity, Conundrum’s current touring show, which is all about relationships.
In the context of the moment, a symbol’s meaning shifts. For me, today, the loop stands for our inalienable interdependence. On stage we’re a microcosm of humanity; a small ocean in a bottle. And in every show, in every moment, we need to be attuned to each other. We need to pay attention and rely on each other.
The loop can be counterintuitive, with multiple factors of complexity, but so far no one has been seriously hurt (rope burns notwithstanding.) Multiple casts have used this apparatus, and without airing anyone’s dirty laundry, each of these groups have had conflicts, some of them very serious. And despite our differences, despite our temperaments, despite the grievances we’ve born, we have come to the act and trusted each other enough to put our lives in each other’s hands. It’s been a good reminder for me; like circus, it’s a potent symbol of our unity-despite-our-disparity.
LOOP VS WALL
I’ve fallen in love with, and been dear friends with, and collaborated with talented artists who have been denied entry to the US. As well as being bad for art, a wall designed to exclude hurts the needy and puts one more division in our own hearts. I categorically oppose this symbol.
It’s vitally important, now more than ever, to share our art, ideas and stories across cultural, linguistic and national lines. Touring work to other countries means flow of information both ways. We inspire each other. Perspectives broaden, the perception of diversity grows. We discover new ways people navigate the same questions, of how to get along, create home, build community. Places on maps become places we have lived, people we meet while teaching, audiences who react in unexpected ways. These places become part of our own stories. We cross-pollinate. We see how it’s possible to live otherwise than we do. Long distances shrink and we become closer.
Much as it might temporarily satisfy our angry, aggrieved selves, there can be no denying we are one thing. One species. Sharing one planet. In my mind, inclusion and exclusion are two answers to the wrong question. Something like, how can I belong? They both stem from the illusion of our separateness, from each other, from what’s around us. I think because we are here, belonging is implied.
Let’s not waste our time trying to exclude whoever the loudmouths in power are scapegoating. I’m dedicated to holding up a mirror to our community, to reflect as accurately as I can the fact of our interconnectivity. I encourage all my fellow U.S. circus artists to do similarly; it’s time to put all that training to some use. Now is a moment for truth. Let’s make some art that means something.