Fraying Parachutes: costume agency and ‘convivencia’ in contemporary circus performance making

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


Written from the perspective of choreographer and mise-en-scène, this paper critically reflects on costume agency and ‘convivencia’ (living with) in contemporary circus performance making. It draws on the author’s experiences on a Canadian Arts Council funded research project Circus Sessions 2019, which brought together twelve female artists from five different countries. Working with notions of ‘convivencia’ in artistic collaboration, the embodied research took as its foci positive receptivity, hospitality and fascination as creative tools in the collective devising methods. More specifically, Fraying Parachutes focuses on the artists’ interactive participation in the costume making processes with designer Sara Torrie, in which three abandoned parachutes were transformed and up-cycled into circus costumes. The different elements of the de-constructed parachutes served as visual reminders of flight, suspension, risk and rescue; their stained surfaces also suggested a conflictive baggage of re-imagined narratives, military manoeuvres and failed flight.
Recognizing risk as inherent in circus technique and performance, this project sought to question what risks and acts of empowerment might be attached to identity making and artistic expression for the female performer working in circus. The purposely fraying, yet resilient parachute costumes acted as key agents in this process. Through adopting, adapting and integrating these performative materials into their work, the artists were able to contest the highly sexualized costumes of traditional circus relating to embodied performances of femininity (Lavers et al, 2020). The materials also allowed for a playfully subversion, that undermined the expectation of the ‘super-human’ in circus, and instead supported notions of vulnerability and failure in performance. The parachute costumes became a sort of artistic ‘glue’ inviting new ways of recognising with-ness, and mediating tensions that arose from cultural-artistic difference. In doing so the practice, effort, negotiation and achievement that according to Wise and Noble (2016) after Gilroy (2004) distinguishes ‘convivencia’ from conviviality became productively manifest.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Aug 2020
EventCritical Costume 2020: Costume Agency - Oslo National Academy of the Arts. Online, Oslo, Norway
Duration: 21 Aug 202023 Aug 2020
Conference number: 4


ConferenceCritical Costume 2020
Abbreviated titleCC2020
Internet address


  • Costume
  • Contemporary Circus
  • Convivencia
  • Collaboration


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