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10th Annual Woman’s Bust! Freedom on Stilts

Teenagers, hard-working mothers and courageous grandmothers of New Mexico may have found a new form of expression in the 10th Annual New Mexican Wise Fool presentation of Bust!, a woman’s Circus Intensive Workshop. Girls and women from Santa Fe and around New Mexico learn to dive head-first into dangerous flips, stilt-walks, trapeze-flying, aerial pyrotechnics, hoops and jests of the circus—daring to surrender their bodies to the arms and legs of fellow performers, as they dangle from a trapeze or wobble on an aerial cloth.

When I walk  into the Armory of the Arts Theater, where Bust! was held, a young clown with a red nose, pink tutu, and blond pigtails shouts to another clown, “Grandma, What are you doing?” “I’m trying to sit down,” replies the upside-down clown, with a plastic face where her legs should be. The show then begins with the clown in the pink tutu asking a member of the audience “What do you think is going to happen?” The audience member answers, “exciting things!”

First on stage is a masked woman on a trapeze, who slowly reveals her face to the audience by pealing back layers of her mask while flying through the air–an expression of public persona in contrast to private identity, perhaps?

Nikesha Breeze, the director of Bust! 2012, describes this year’s theme as the exploration of freedom. What does freedom have to do with the circus, you might ask? Through audio storytelling, one performer mimes her interpretation of freedom as the ability to move without being ashamed of her body; while another performer swings on the trapeze to conjure memories of her childhood. Still others choose friends to demonstrate coexistence of a single body on stage, like a continuous latter whose rungs will not run short. As one, they support each other in handstands, cartwheels, dive rolls and swings until the last girl disappears behind the curtain.

Bust!, though supported with lighting and music, isn’t a glitzy Las Vegas woman’s act. During the show, a girl fell from her stilts and the other performers ran to her side, helping her back to her stilts before the stagehands or spotters were even aware. “On with the show!,” the audience applauded the recovery of the fallen girl, and the performers continued as if it were all part of the show.

As beginners, the participants focus less on the performance, and more on personal growth in acrobatic training. Girls perform a variety of acts from a simple mime to a challenging body pyramid on a red carpet. Additionally, circus costuming and staging are taught throughout the workshop so every colorful leotard, wacky wig and prop are pre-designed by the students, making their own styles pop for the twenty individual acts.

Girls become fearless, at the end of the workshop, able to put themselves in front of an audience. Their enthusiasm and love of risk-taking in the annual Bust! Showcase appears as symbolic representation of overcoming obstacles through a supportive community of women.

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