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Mentorship: Choreography and Performance

Karen generously invited me to come to one of her rehearsals with San Francisco Bouffon clown Nathaniel Justiniano. The two were paired to make and perform a piece together in two weeks for the wildly popular Brief Encounters. I came in a couple rehearsals in.

First of all, I notice how different the two artists practices are to one another, and what ripe artistic landscape this creates. The contrast opens up some intriguing and sometimes heated discussion between the two prolific artists.

Nathaniel notes that it's not a good idea to break down comedy. It's more about the depth of conviction of the performer that makes something funny. He also notes that the willingness to be laughed AT is a real vulnerability and that is a large component of Bouffon. I remember my own experience with Bouffon years ago at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre fondly, but remember how raw and taboo it felt. I ate it up. To me, it makes a sacred practice of scraping away the reverence out of the unspeakable things in life and exposes grotesque realities.

Karen and Nathaniel do a run of the piece. It's funny, the kind of awkward humour that I enjoy. At times I cannot tell if they are really sparring through the performance dialogue or if it is planned choreography, and I love that I am put in that middle ground. It feels real. Is the awkwardness created or does it truly exist between them, right now? This questioning allows me to stay completely present because I am looking for answers actively. It's uncomfortable in the best way.

I notice the organicity of the transitions. They are made without me noticing them.
Nathaniel later describes himself as a fun house mirror of Karen, that he doesn't exist without her. He expresses that the more Bouffon that she becomes the less he exists. Karen expresses that she gets sucked into and back out of Bouffon.

They have some disagreements about certain sections, and discuss personal boundaries. Boundaries are so different across practices, and though this becomes an issue for a short time in the room, as an outside eye, I feel it is part of what makes duet magic between the two.

I leave with my own questions about mining material in creative space. How can artistic content and research infect the self and deepen it? How can you emerge out of it with gold and not let it paralyze you? These questions come up for me specifically, as I have often experienced it is those tough spots that can yield to vulnerability that when exposed can lead to performative access points that the audience can hold on to.