Liza Rose, along with collaborator and fellow producer-performer LadyBEAST, has been at the forefront of a fast-growing circus-arts scene in New Orleans. That’s one of the many reasons that makes her competition in the U.S. Aerial Championships May 13-15 in New York City — which was chronicled earlier this spring — so exciting. She will be competing among some of the very best in the form, representing New Orleans as well as herself. As part of a continuing series, “Field Trip,” Liza Rose shares her thoughts and experiences at the championships …
It’s the night before I will compete in the U.S. Aerial Championships. I’m sitting in my friend Cindy’s apartment in Chelsea, working on the website for the new Fly Circus Space because I suppose it’s true — when it rains, it pours. I arrived in New York on Tuesday morning, with my gorgeous valet/life partner, Max, and my aerial gear in tow. I used to live in NYC, and every time I visit, it’s a bit of a homecoming. I kept thinking how beautiful it was as the Uber crawled through Queens in traffic on its way in to Manhattan. If you’ve ever been to Queens, you’ll know how funny that last sentence is.
It’s been a funny ride. I have never participated in an aerial competition before. I am not in the habit of making work to be judged. I make work to be enjoyed. I am a circus artist. My whole job is to remind people how to have fun, how to be inspired, and how to imagine the extraordinary. My job is not not to make sure I can do the most dangerous skill with the most panache in front of someone who will then later declare one person a “winner” and someone else a “loser” based on said levels of danger and panache. Where’s the joy in that?
I know that artists compete every day — for sales or audience, for grant money or Kickstarter dollars, but I haven’t ever stepped over the line and offered up a piece of my work purely and blatantly for competition. It’s well outside my comfort zone, and has not been an entirely healthy process. It has been important for me, in that it has made me look at why I do what I do, and reassess how I spend my time in the studio, and for what. My most fervent hope is that my participation in this competition will draw attention to the growing circus scene in New Orleans, and help audiences to realize that they have world-class circus artists in their midst. I don’t know if I’ll win, but it is an honor to be here in New York, and in such good company.
I would hate to be the judge that had to declare just one of us a winner. Perhaps they have the more difficult role here. Yesterday I traveled out to the Muse, a circus training space in Brooklyn where I’ll be teaching workshops later this weekend. I met and trained with a handful of other competitors. One is from Slovakia, one from Hong Kong, one from Australia, one from Las Vegas. We chatted openly about the nature of competition. We are all very different performers, and our work is difficult to compare. We all acknowledge that in the end, all we can do when we get onstage is try to let the artistry shine through and connect with our audience.
Meeting them made me feel better about putting my work on the chopping block. We all train endlessly. We all fret about details. We all strive for that one skill that eludes us. Why in the world would we ask someone else to join in the critique? We do it to ourselves constantly! I think we do it because as artists, we all just want exactly the same thing: connection. We dream of circus as a common language, and this is a way to know how articulate we have become.