Flying and Falling

Guest Blogger Vicki Amedume, Artistic Director of contemporary circus company Upswing writes about some exploratory work that she has been commissioned by Entelechy to develop in collaboration with Freedom Studios and the Albany. The work formed part of the research and development process for the Freedom Studios and Entelechy Arts co-production Home Sweet Home. It is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Following the development of ‘What Happens in The Winter’ a partnership with Entelechy Arts has allowed further exploration work around ageing. Our first sessions happened as part of ‘Meet Me at the Albany’ and ended in one of the most profound, and productive encounters I have had so far.

In the first session I wanted to introduce myself. I shared my story about how I had found circus then gave a performance/demonstration. Afterwards I asked people if they wanted to try some of the work for themselves. One or two people immediately wanted to fly and went into the air, it lead to a chain reaction of possibility with more people wanting to try once a few had been up before them. However, as we were working one participant said something that polarized the room. She expressed how she found the idea of asking her to take part in this was not appropriate or possible, she found it frustrating. She had been a dancer and felt that unless she could perform like I did in my demonstration it was not worth taking part. A discussion quickly unfolded around capability, around conscious and internalized judgments, about what how we judge what is and isn’t of value or appropriate. Some people talked about how they refused to be limited and others talked about how they felt there was a stigma attached to acknowledging pain and frailty. We talked about adaptation and value, actually we did rather a lot of talking staying long past our allotted time.

Originally when I had talked with Entelechy about ‘Meet Me’, we had no idea what would come of this process. We knew that the idea of older people taking part in circus with the perceived risks would inevitably challenge people’s notions of what was possible but by the end of that first session I realised that something very special was happening. The first session was completely claimed by participants it created a stimulus and space for a dialogue around topics that are hard to approach. I hope in future sessions we will find a way to reconnect with that conversation.

Today as a further part of the process I got to spend some time at The Human Movement Science Department in The Clinical Ageing Research Unit at Newcastle University with Dr Brook Galna and Proff Lynn Rochester. The lab research is on ‘Gait and Activity in Ageing and Disease’ with a particular focus on the interaction between cognitive and motor functions in age. Most interesting for me was exploring the tools they had in the human movement lab to measure and analyse the body in motion.

Brook explained how with ageing or particular pathologies (causes and effects of diseases) associated with ageing, there is an increase in the need to control movement through higher level cognitive functions (i.e. you have to think more about how you move). Shared with them how as an aerialist in performance I want my movements to be automatic and intuitive. We talked about how the kind of training that circus artists do might make them less susceptible to the changes in movement control normally associated with ageing. Brook spoke a lot about the adaptability of the human body and how much ‘redundancy’ was built into us to allow us to find new physical pathways to deal with changed or reduced function. Brook talked about how they study and individuals function, rather than looking for what is ‘wrong’ with them. The team spoke about how much of their research extends beyond the lab looking at lifestyle, psychology and environment impact on functionality.

I left feeling inspired by the level of passion they had for making real and useful impacts on peoples lives. Above all I realised that there are about a million more conversations to be had as I continue to work with Entelechy but feeling I have a great circle of people to now talk to and deepen my thinking.

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