*Note* This is an old piece originally published on circusnow.com
A: Can you explain a bit about your creation process? Smoke and Mirrors is very philosophical and I am curious to know if you start with an issue you wish to investigate and then create choreography that interacts with it, or do you start with choreography and then notice the philosophical issues that are already at play in your work?
C: Both of those things, they kind of happen simultaneously, and we don’t very often work in one particular issue or concept. Like Smoke and Mirrors has a lot of different things going on, just as one example of our work. There are a lot of issues and concepts, like it’s not about capitalism. It’s not about these really particular things and it’s also about all of them. Often how we’ll work is we will start with an idea, and then through the process of workshopping it we ask, “how do we go through this really specific idea and broaden it to be more universal?” So although there is a political angle to Smoke and Mirrors it’s not about any one politic, no particular “we’re trying to tell you this,” but a broader sense of “what’s actually happening in the world now and how are people being affected by it?”
A: Do you have any particular theories that you research or is your work based on things you come into contact with every day?
C: I would say mostly the latter, where it’s like how are we affected by what’s happening all around us, and then when there are particular things, maybe not so much in Smoke and Mirrors, but within other work that I’ve done, when I get to a point where it’s like, “oh I actually want more information about what’s happening in a situation, like I want statistics, then I’ll go and research it, but for me it usually doesn’t start with, “I’m going to make a research project and then base my movement on the research,” its more like something coming from a place that is personal to me. A sense of realness is at the core of what I am wanting and what is inspiring to me, not trying to take a topic that is separate from my experiences as a human being.
A: I guess I ask mostly because I think at one time I read that Smoke and Mirrors had to do with the idea of the “other,” and I’m not sure where I read that.
C: These are two different shows. I made a solo show called The Other, that’s probably where that got mixed up. That was about different states of silence, different states of solitude, about queerness, about otherness.
A: What struggles have you had translating some of those themes into movement?
C: It doesn’t feel like a struggle to me. If I’m interested in making work about something it means that I am feeling it in some way. If I’m feeling it in some way the only thing that I really know how to do as a human being is move my body in order to filter all of these things.
A: Do you think music is something you hear and then decide to create corresponding movement, or do you have movements and then find music that goes with it?
C: I would say both of those things. Then again, I’m sort of answering all of your questions with, “it is all happening at the same time.” I spend a lot of time with music and a lot of time alone with music, going deep with music, really deep listening. So I’ve thought a lot about music and the role it plays in my work, as well as artistically what a really positive relationship with music is. As a performing artist, and this is a little off topic, but something that I think about a lot within circus and within dance is that what happens with the music is that the act becomes sort of like a back up dance for the music, where it’s just a response to the music. And it can be paired really well together, certainly, but then I’ve also thought a lot about, “okay, well is that actually my work? Is that my art?” When I have people coming up to me after they see something on the trapeze and they tell me all of these things, particular adjectives about what they felt, which are all of the same adjectives about how I felt when I listened to that song, it brings up this questions of, “is this actually a realness or are they responding to the song?” You can’t really separate them. Its almost like I’m representing that song, even though I don’t know the artist who made this song, they don’t know that I’m doing this dance to this song, I am responding to it. And that’s not a bad thing, but it’s something that has influenced a lot of the research that I’ll do movement-wise. How do we actually source music? How do we source movement from our own rhythms, from our own tempos, from our own ways of naturally moving? What is our way of moving? So I work with music a lot, obviously, I want to work with really beautiful music, but I would say that although it does really affect me, it’s rare that I find a piece of music and decide I need to make an act to this song. It’s more finding a piece of music that is really symbiotic with the research I’m already doing and pairing it that way.
A: Do you think that idea is something Laura considered when she made the act in Stitch where she didn’t use any music at all, and all the noises were from her movement and her breathing?
C: Totally, but that happened on accident. She was working with some different songs and wasn’t very pleased with any of them, and she was rehearsing in the theatre and I walked in and she didn’t have any music playing, because she was just practicing the moves. And I walked in and it was total silence, I mean silence is one of the loudest things ever right? Where it’s like there actually isn’t silence, there’s so many sounds always.
A: Right, it was a very intense act.
C: Totally, so I walked in at that moment and just stopped and watched her and it was like, “this is the act, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” because we’re listening to her breath, we’re listening to the creaks of the building. Working in silence is no new idea, it can be really, really beautiful. So certainly that was thought of, but in that regard, that one happened by accident, which is generally how the best things happen.
A: I wanted to talk about two specific themes I’ve noticed in your work, and I don’t know if they are things you do intentionally, or if they just occur. It goes along with the idea of the sounds of silence, or when you use nudity, or a lot of exposure on the characters part; is that meant to represent a sense of vulnerability? How do you see vulnerability in your work?
C: It doesn’t feel like an external ingredient that I want to bring in; it feels like the basis. For me, I generally don’t want to watch anything unless there is some sense of vulnerability in it. That’s what draws me in, that’s what makes me feel connected to a performer, as well as what makes me feel like as a performer I’m giving something real. So, certainly nudity is very vulnerable, to be naked on a stage. In the Other, my solo show, I’m completely naked in both the beginning and the end. It’s about being totally stripped down, like “here it is, this is what’s happening.” I want everything to be vulnerable. I mean, I want things to be strong and I want them to be vulnerable, I want them to be all kinds of things. In the past two years I’ve really been obsessing over balancing tricks on the trapeze, and one of the things that I really love about that whole process is that it’s really fucking vulnerable. It is physically really vulnerable, and although there is technique to it, it’s really just you standing on a trapeze bar without any hands, balancing. And the movement that comes out of the organic nature of that, that’s everything that I want to watch.
A: As an audience member I’ve always found that move to be one of the most anxiety inducing tricks I’ve seen.
C: Right! So I feel like within the role of vulnerability, especially in circus, what a lot of people are taught is how to polish the vulnerability out of everything and how to make everything super pristine. I actually like to watch a little bit of a struggle; I want to watch that process. Not to say that there aren’t a lot of people working with high skill technique that is really fucking vulnerable and they are really polished at it, but it’s a different thing. I want to see the rawness. So that’s an interesting one, of actually looking at the technical aspects of trapeze for example. It’s one thing to present vulnerability; it’s one thing to gesture vulnerability; it’s one thing to display a vulnerable character; and then it’s another thing to really make something physically, emotionally, psychologically vulnerable. How do you get into that state?
A: I’m curious about your characters, because you do have distinct characters, but they seem almost interchangeable sometimes, which ties into my next question about gender. When I watch the two of you, especially since you have similar body types, there are a lot of similarities, and it breaks down these gender barriers. How are your characters viewed through the idea of breaking down gender?
C: Within character development, going back to drawing from our own experiences as human beings, the closer we can stay to a place of what is actually true for ourselves, the more developed and real those characters are. All of us have a million different characters inside of ourselves, it’s a basic rule of clowning, find the thing about yourself that is real and exacerbate it. And I think that can be done in multiple directions. Like the characters in Stitch were very real parts of ourselves, but exacerbated in a particular way. Same thing with Smoke and Mirrors, not to say either of us are business people, but definitely we are under the trap of capitalism, just as much as anybody else. Within gender, Smoke and Mirrors is an interesting one, especially in the finale where we’re both almost naked and we’re both in the ropes doing a duet. That really was this thing of, okay, were not available. I am a queer man, Laura is basically my wife, we’re not sexually involved with each other, but are still very romantic and have a lot of sweetness. It’s a very queer relationship in that way. The last thing that we want to be doing or perpetuating in our artwork is continuing to instill these gender dynamics. And although I am the base in the duo, and although I am flipping around the flexible girl, it’s also about restructuring so that you can’t really tell whose body parts are whose. So it’s more than “I feel like gender is like this really big topic that I’m interested in exploring,” its more of like, as a queer person how do I do this beautiful aerial act and not be perpetuating the thing that I don’t want to be seeing in circus, which is basically faggots and flexible girls pretending to be in love.
A: That is something that drew me to your work, and though you say that you’re the base, I don’t see it that often. I think it is pretty interchangeable, especially when you do things that are synchronized and show that both the female and the male are capable of doing these same motions. You exhibit flexibility too, so it’s not just the standard dynamic of very buff, strong male and then flexible woman being flown.
C: No, it’s not that at all. And that’s really important to us, and even if it wasn’t important to us, like, I’m not a beefcake, you know what I mean? I’m strong, but I’m not that guy. So I think it’s really just encouraging what’s already happening, where it’s like how do we show the sweetness of our relationship, as well as be careful not have it become sexual? This is not the man and wife love duet. This is two humans who are having an intimate experience together, and how do we non-sexualize it? How do we use nudity and make it non-sexual? That’s another big one. How do we take off the clothes and have it be the most un-sexual thing? At least to us. So it’s interesting, I feel like people are way sexier, and there’s a lot more connotation, when clothing is actually involved, because of the presentation of clothing, and the presentation of gender through clothing. Take the presentation away and just have two bodies doing stuff, and it’s worked for us.
A: What is your background? Do you come from more of a dance background? Does theatre have any influence on the work that you do?
C: I think I’ve been to like four dance classes in my entire life, so that is not a part of my training. Really my dance background is, which sounds like such a joke to say this and is actually not a joke at all, I have an older sister who started bringing me into the psychedelic, electronic dance scene in the early 90s when I was eleven years old. And I sort of grew up in the rave scene in the 90s, and although there is this party component of that, what was happening culturally in New Mexico is that all of these things were out of doors, with really exquisite music, and really phenomenal, life changing moments were happening, which is where I learned about moving my body, and where I learned about energetics, and where I learned about the manipulation of energy. Though it sounds like a joke, I don’t want to discredit the fact that I was a raver for a decade, and really did a lot of movement research with psychedelics and dancing for hours and hours. So I feel like that is what sparked my interest, and then from that I got into yoga at the age of fourteen, and then that led into martial art training, then that led into more interest in acrobatics, and acrobatics led into finding a trapeze class. But it was all very self-directed. I never really had one particular teacher in anything. And I spent a lot of time alone in this theatre where we make all our work. I lived there for many years. I spent a lot of time alone up there just feeling the weight of the world and how it affected my movement as well as just obsessing, making things up.
A: Have you ever had issues with the perception of your work? Has anyone ever come up to you and told you something about the work that you didn’t expect?
C: A little bit. Mostly people are right with us. We have had some funny things, like we had somebody call Smoke and Mirrors “the marriage show” because they couldn’t remember the name. And we were sort of like, “what the fuck are you talking about?” And okay, there was no harm in it, but there are certain comments like that. But, for the most part people are pretty with us, and with us doesn’t mean you just get the thing, or maybe you get the broader thing and we were able to invite you into the state that we were interested in sharing with you, more than just the concept. I want people to feel connected, and I feel like we get that.