Thursday, September 12, 2013

More Photos from September 8th

Thanks to Sarah Alcantara, we have some more gorgeous photos of the events last Sunday. Enjoy!
Paint cans. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

The troupe painting silks. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Feegz at work. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Polly upside down. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Polly. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Polly. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Polly. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Christi Painting Silks in the air. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Young artists at the craft table after the show. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

The Jelly Fish Puppy. Created by kids and Goons at Word Up on Friday 9/6/13. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Caitlin and Polly. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Caitlin and Polly. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Paint at the ready. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Paint cans. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Goons piece. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Chriselle Tidrick on stilts. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Making shapes. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

"The explorer." Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Audience. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Polly. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Paris juggling. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Paris juggling. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dispatches from Urban Acrobatics NYC: Day 6, Our Culminating Performance

Polly on Silks, Goons piece in Background. Photo Credit: Ted Minos
Urban Acrobatics was in fact, a spectacular. Outside the majestic Morris-Jumel Mansion, Flutterby the Magnificent stood tall, and the performers had a lively audience of a hundred, a mix of families from the neighborhood, tourists at the mansion, and people who had heard about the event through word of mouth. The Fly ID team of E67, Clark, and their kids worked at a three-panel wall on the south side of the grounds, while Goons’ piece stood midway down the field, and Feegz stood his 3’ by 8’ panel vertically on the north side of the grounds.

Carol Ward, Interim Executive Director of the Mansion offered a few words of introduction about the Mansion, and her desire to change it from something that could be static, to a dynamic space for community engagement. We played a compiliation of selections from the panel discussions and interviews that we did over the past week, from Tatu on Xmen being a kind of circus of different writers from every place in the world, Autumn on circus being a life-risking enterprise, David Carlyon and bourgeois anxiety about “unnecessary movement,” and Feegz on graffiti, hip hop, and long-running mass public denigration of graffiti as an art, echoed by Polly and Chriselle.

Suddenly, Chriselle emerged all in black on four three foot tall stilts, her hands moving --- bird-like, or even like the vapor of paint from a spray can—was she lilted from side to side, engaging with the audience, and then dancing with Polly. Then the other circus artists emerged, and made dramatic shapes with their bodies, warming the audience up. Meanwhile, E67, Clark, and Feegz painted, the Fly ID crew slowly creating a sky scene with full bubble letters and wings, 
Thanking Fly ID Crew. Photo Credit: Ted Minos
and Feegz’s piece a more abstract play with colors, can control, and post-office stickers, a detailed collage.

Feegz at work. Photo Credit: Ted Minos
 Each circus artist had a solo; Leslie on Lyra, Autumn, Christi, Polly, and Leslie on silks, and Paris revving up the clowd with his juggling set to the tune of “It Takes Two.” Each circus ran to a graffiti artist and had their shirt painted, 
E67, Clark, and Paris. Photo Credit: Ted Minos
Polly's Tag by Feegz. Photo Credit: Ted Minos
or even pants, while the circus artists on silks or on the drop cloth below created painted swirls at high velocity.
Silk writing. Photo Credit: Ted Minos

Forty minutes later the silks themselves, the canvas panels, the drop cloth, and the artists’ bodies were works of art.
The Present. Christi, Leslie, Paris, Autumn, Chriselle, and Polly. Photo Credit: Ted Minos
 Polly and I concluded by thanking our partners; NoMAA, Word Up, Critical Massive, Moose Hall Theatre Company, the Morris Jumel Mansion, and Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, and asking them, and also you, to stay tuned as the project develops with our second series in the Spring in Chicago.
Caitlin Bruce and Polly Solomon. Show wrap-up. Photo Credit: Ted Minos

Wonderfully, at least twenty kids and their families stayed to paint, draw, and doodle with the crafts that we set out. Feegz worked with a group of kids, letting them add to (and even color over) his work. Some parents even got involved, letting the kid inside them play. Seeing dozens of smiling audience members, and artists, is what this is all about. 
Moose Hall with the Circus- Post Show Merriment. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

E67 Fly ID, Clark Fly ID, and Fly Girl. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Feegz at Work. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Young artists. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dispatches from Urban Acrobatics NYC: Day 4- Preparation

Flutterby the Magnificent viewed from the Jumel Parlor. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
What a beautiful day. In the sparkling weather Goons, Polly, Chriselle, Leslie, Christy, and Autumn worked on preparations for the final performance. After assembling the rig, Flutterby the Magnificent, Goons arrived, and worked on a large scale Goons figure with India Ink, and "The Circus" in block letters.
Circus Goons. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
At the same time, large and small groups flowed in and out of the historic Jumel mansion which provided a stately background to the proceedings. Several conversations were happening about modern dance, circus history, and Aaron Burr, all within the same space.
"The Circus The Circus." Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Part of this project is research based, using interview and observation, starting to piece together "aha" moments of connection, illumination, and recognition.
View of the Mansion with the rig. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
I interviewed Polly Solomon, Chriselle Tidrick, and Leslie Robin over the past two days. All three are circus artists. Chriselle does aerial acrobatics, dance, and walks on stilts, and uses modern dance techniques in her circus work, that "carries through some idea or concept to the audience." For her circus is "about techniques...rather than it being in a tent...or some location." Instead, it is about taking skills to wherever they can take place. Learning about graffiti for her was more about learning about a subculture, and "figuring out how much overlap there is between circus artists and graffiti artists." The "idea of being outsiders," she elaborated, is shared, and that "both things are considered low art," a phenomenon she has "confronted often in the dance world...where people say that [circus] is a gimmick...or not real art...and I think graffiti artists thing something similar from the established art world."

Leslie works on Lyra, as well as other elements of circus, and began her journey into circus at the age of six, where at summer camp after some counselors found her climbing on a jungle gym, and asked her mother if Leslie would be interested in gymnastics classes. She defined circus as something that is "athletic" but also "artistic means of expressing yourself" but is "hard to define" because a lot of things "can be circus...if you put it in an environment that can be circus." In terms of aesthetic lineages Leslie was trained in a "more traditional" circus background, but what keeps her practicing is "more artistic and modern...about conveying emotion..." Leslie participated in all of the workshops this week, and has a unique perspective on the process. She noted that she was struck by the similarities in the intense color of graffiti and circus, and that both are art forms that "society does not want to acknowledge as art forms."
Leslie practicing as troupe members stand by. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Polly speaks of circus as wonder inducing, narrative, and expressive, "like watching the Olympics, where a part of your brain imagines that you could do it [the sport] but another part thinks that you never could."

It is with great anticipation that I await the performance at the Jumel Mansion tomorrow, at 3:00 pm. Come one, come all.

Rig at the Ready. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dispatches from Urban Acrobatics NYC: Day 3 Workshops at Word Up! 9/6/13

Movement and imagination. These are the two key ideas that Polly, Goons, and the six amazing kids that spent the day with us at Word Up! learned, embodied, and taught.

Arriving at Word Up! at noon today, a little bleary-eyed from being up late from the adrenaline of last night's workshops, I was greeted by a girl from the neighborhood who had participated in the tagging workshops last night. "She stayed up all night drawing." Polly informed me. True enough, Sheli showed me the pages of her sketch book filled with pictures, of a little mermaid, a princess, and a page that said "I love you Mami and Papi." She helped us set up.
Our fearless leader and her sketch book. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
 Kids who had participated in E67 and Clark's workshop returned, and Goons started off the second workshop. "So many of you know of graffiti as writing words, but you can also draw characters. Maybe today we can draw characters, would you like to do that?" The kids nodded. "Ok, well the best way to start is to create, so let's just start creating." He shared a foamcore board with Sheli and Isis, on of the other participants from the night before, and his iconic Goons characters, with big red lips and often a single eye, began to be joined by smaller, slightly more kinetic figures, splashes of color, and flowers, leaves, and other objects.

I was joined by the girl who wrote "Zebra" the night before, accompanied by her younger sister. We drew dogs and cats and rabbits, recounting mishaps with pet bunnies. Twenty minutes later we then, led by Polly and Goons, embarked on drawing a creature collectively. After much deliberation it was decided that the creature would be a "Bobble headed butterfly monster." Taking turns, each participant added to the monster, which was eventually christened "Wosterhead." Woster was a little dark: he/she ate both nectar and humans.

"Wosterhead", The Bobble-Head-Butterfly-Monster. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Then Polly made life more complicated. We had to draw another collective creature, this time a "Puppy jellyfish" but the catch was that not only would each person add part of the drawing, but they had to make up a dance move that the rest of the move would carry out whilst they drew. After which, we played a version of "drawing musical chairs" when, after the key word "banana" was uttered, we would have to move to draw on a different part of the board. The result was a more erratic, mobile, and energetic looking piece, reflecting the movement of the participants. Holding up the piece, looking at the sitting, and the standing results, we could see how physical movement impacted the aesthetic look of the pieces.
Puppy Jellyfish. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
After thanking Goons for teaching us about drawing characters, and bravely participating in all of hte dance, scrambling, and moving about, Polly moved us into the circus workshop. Three more of the participants from the night before arrived, excited and ready to get into the work. I chatted with some of the kids while Polly set up the mats, learning that they ranged from age 6 to 10, most went to PS8, and one wanted to be a lawyer, and three doctors.

Polly went over the rules: "Safety, Fun, and Respect." She elaborated after asking the kids to define each term. "You have to be safe. Be careful of yourself, and of others. Have fun-- I think you all know what that is. And Respect. You have to respect your body, not doing anything that would hurt it, nourishing it, keeping it strong. And you must respect others, be aware of them. Finally, you must respect the space and the equipment that is being lent to us." The three rules were a touch-stone that we could return to when frazzled, hyper, or frustrated.

First we did a warm up, loosening our bodies, getting ready to move. Then Polly had everyone work on partners on balancing exercises, holding onto a partner's wrists while standing toe-to-toe, and then slowly leaning back. "You have to trust your partner," she instructed "and you have to take your tummy with you!" After some squeals of uncertainty the troupe each succeeded in doing an assisted lean. Things got more complex yet again. "Now we are going to do some standing poses, where the smaller partner stands on the bigger one. But you do not just jump on your partner!" Polly cautioned. "You carefully put your foot turning outwards on the middle of their thigh, while holding onto their wrists, then the same with the next foot. Then you both lean back." She demonstrated with Lesley, and Sheli, and we were underway. Suddenly, from basic leans, the kids were making a human pyramid, on hands and knees and even standing.

Human, or, in Carla's terminology "People Pyramid." Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
 Possibly the most frustrating but also rewarding activity of the day was spinning plates. Plate spinning is deceptively simple when done by a pro: after a few subtle and expert spins on the lip of the plate, Polly transferred the wooden pole to the middle where it rotated smoothly and rapidly. In reality, keeping the stick at a straight angle while making small, smooth, and rapid circles is much more difficult. Plates clattered to the floor, bouncing on the mats, noses, and knees. Frustrated but not surrendering, the dedicated troupe followed Polly around, asking her to demonstrate, and the re-demonstrate the exercise. Finally, after working silently and intensely, the troupe was able to efficiently transfer a plate to each person and spin them in unison. Eyes locked above, mouths open or set, a message written in the Urban Acrobatics guest book had proved prophetic: "Concentration is key."

Spinning Plates. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
 Of course, after every act, one must also conclude it with a flourish, called "The Present." The present can be thought of the circus equivalent of a graffiti style, the signature flourish one adds at the end of a particularly thrilling act.
"The Present." Successful Plate Spinning. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
After a short late lunch break, where the troupe read on the mats, or colored in their new sketch books, we reconvened to juggle discs with partners. Finally, we sat together and discussed the events of the past two days. I asked each youth to tell me what they thought of the workshops, and what their favorite parts were. Surprisingly, many said that the plate spinning, though frustrating, was their favorite because it was exciting to be able to do it. Others loved the graffiti and that "you can draw bricks behind your name." They then requested dance music and boogied the rest of the afternoon away. Some may join us for the final performance Sunday.

A hearty thanks to Goons, Riley, Polly, Word Up!, Moose Hall, and the kids for their inspiring work today. See you tomorrow at the Practice Session at the Jumel Mansion.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dispatches from Urban Acrobatics New York: The First Workshop Series

E67 Fly ID and Clark Fly ID leading tagging workshop. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
Today we had our first workshop series at the beautiful Word Up Bookstore and community center, at 165th Street and Amsterdam. We started with a tagging workshop, led by Erotica67 Fly ID and Clark Fly ID, two long time graffiti artists from the Bronx. We had three circus artists, and seven kids from the neighborhood. Laying out some brown butcher paper on the floor E directed the group to sit alongside the paper "like at a table." Then she held up a large foam board and drew our attention to Clark's rapid, fluid tag. "Choose a tag, its like a nickname. Do you have a nickname?" One kid shook his head, "Then you can write something that you like, or like to do."
E67 Working with Youth on Tag
Erotica drew a "skeleton" of letters and then "marshmellows" around them, and then, surrounded them with a cloud.
Demonstrating tag "skeleton" and "marshmellow" letters. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Exhorting the kids to tag up the butcher paper and represent NYC, their neighborhood, or street, Clark, meanwhile, drew a more elaborate throw up with outline, shadow, highlights, and a brick background. A youth to my right, Carla, helped lead her younger cousins in working on their pieces, she drawing a multicolored pink and orange piece with a frenetic and layered sun.
Cousins working together on tagging. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
 Another girl joined in, and after explaining to me that her favorite animals were bears and zebras, embarked on drawing a "Zebra" tag.
"Zebra" Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
"One thing that I love about graffiti is that there is no such thing as a mistake," Erotica instructed, "And that you don't just have to draw letters, you can make characters. Like a sun with cool sunglasses" She drew a jolly sun sporting shades and a smile, "Or one that is giving a hug, because if you saw a wall like that, that'd make you smile." She then demonstrated how to draw a cat with two circles, triangles for ears, side whiskers, and then a squiggly tail. "You don't have to do your letters all neatly, like in school, they can be big, they can be upside down, or sideways." She helped the boy to my left draw a puppy, and Clark demonstrated how you can draw bricks in the background of your piece. Then Erotica demonstrated how to do shadows "Just remember the direction the sun is coming from," and an outline and shine. We then shifted from the butcher paper to large individual pieces of paper, and Erotica and Clark concluded by doing a raffle, having kids pick a number that had been secretly written down, and rewarding the winners with a sketch book.
Autumn's Philly-Inspired style. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce.

We rapidly added more tumbling mats and Polly took over by directing a shape-making workshop. "Graffiti," she reminded us, "is a visual performance of breakdancing, and when you see a funny letter sticking out like this" <sticking out her foot> "its like a dancer actually sticking out their foot in a freeze. So we are going to do some shape making with our bodies." Each person picked a pose, and we had to name each pose, and repeat them, some the "boat of shame," or "cute!" or "the explorer" or "arrrgh" or "home run."
"ARRRGH." Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
After moving around in awkward, but exhilarating positions, sort of like musical chairs, Polly asked what you noticed. Someone said "shared energy!" "Thats right!" Polly exclaimed, "and when you work in a troupe, which is like a crew, you work together to share energy to create shapes together, that seem to come out of nowhere."

We shifted to doing some balancing exercises, working with a partner to work against gravity and to create more shapes, and then balancing objects (peacock feathers, plates, and on weebles).
Fly Girl Balancing a Peacock Feather. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Finally, Paris led us in juggling exercises, emphasizing the way in which a juggler needs to hold their hands, palm up and relatively level, and direct their gaze (at two points a little above eye level), leading some to rapidly advance from juggling one bean-bag ball to three or four.
Paris and Polly Demonstrating Juggling Sight Lines. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

The sight of jugglers in the bookstore aisles was a little surprising for some, and we cajoled some unsuspecting bookstore visitors into taking off their shoes and joining us, learning that some had in fact done circus as children, or, never had before.
Word Up. A Spectacular Venue. Autumn Juggling. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
In these exercises, which worked from the very basics of movement, we began to see an architecture of expression based on shared kinetics, intense engagement with objects, and the animation of spaces, that points to some potential spaces for (physical and aesthetic) conversations between genres of graffiti and circus.
Tenacious Circus/Tagging Student Balancing Peacock Feather. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Thanks to E67, Clark, Polly, Paris, Word Up (Emmanuel, Will and the rest of the Word Up crew), and our tenacious participants, adults and youth included. See you tomorrow.

Polly Solomon Juggling. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce