At the Collective Space in downtown Toronto, Circo Zero performed “Turbulence”—a dance that combines improvisation and political theatre. The message of the dance is a “bodily reaction” to economic injustice as well as the crisis of care in the artistic community. “Turbulence” is part of the Blackwood’s current circuit Infrastructure and Aesthetics of Mutual Aid in its exhibition series entitled Take Care.
The third circuit addresses the concept of self-care. Our time is characterized by personal anxiety, economic unpredictability, and upheaval, and so the gallery’s main message is for artists to engage in self-care by enacting new practices of mutual aid. Both the exhibition and dance performance centre on survival strategies that artists use to overcome artistic oppression.
According to their performance brochure, the dancers of “Turbulence” set out to highlight how “issues of debt, precarious labour, and capitalism intersect with race, gender, class, and the ability to build resistance in the face of structural power.” The cast explains the meaning of title of the dance as “what they have learned and practiced while making a dance about the economy.” Invoking their personal experiences with the economic crisis, the performers embody their struggles through their unique and chaotic expression.
When I entered the performance space, I found dancers engaged in warm-up exercises to deafening audio recordings of static noise. The space itself is like a studio, so audience members sit right onstage with the performers. As patrons are still shuffling into their seats, one performer comes around distributing little notecards. Comically, he placed a notecard on top of my head. I reached for it and see that it read “indulge in the imagination of what your hands can do.”
My interpretation of this quote is that regardless of the limitations artists face, whether it be economically or socially, the success of their work is determined by how far they’re willing to put themselves out there and how dirty they’re willing to get their hands in their craft. I strongly believe all the performers tonight achieved this.
“Turbulence” is a messy and incoherent piece. Dancers roll on the floor and then transition into sporadic outbursts of song between swigs of beer. However, I think the notion of the performance and artists themselves being so unhinged encompasses the frustration artists feel in terms of inequitable treatment. In their performer biographies, many identify themselves as “struggling artists” due to a lack of steady income and disregard by the community. A recurring symbol in the performance included gold sequin scarves of all sizes tied over their faces as they improvise partner work, wherein they create unstable and failed structures with their bodies. These structures represent unsustainable systems, as the dancers cannot stand up on their own for long.
One moment of the play that is in contention for me was when a female artist preformed completely undressed. Fully nude, she invaded the personal space of audience members, sitting on their laps. She later wrapped herself in one of the large-sized sequin scarves and proceeded to run with it through the audience, draping the fabric over our heads. I still do not understand the relevance of this part of the event and instead felt that it was inappropriate, even for a performance about self-empowerment and artistic expression. It wasn’t warranted to have two people running around the studio, fully naked, and invading the personal space of audience members. I don’t think that it added artistic value to the performance even if one of the main themes was freedom of expression.
At the conclusion of the show, the noisy audio abruptly stops and the performers immediately re-clothe from torn T-shirts and floral tights to regular streetwear. The dancers’ personas normalize, in that they stop playing the role of eccentric artists. In my opinion, this shift made the necessity of suppressing their true artistic selves in order to be socially accepted most abundantly clear.