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 shared my story about how I had found circus then gave a 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 using aerial cocoons, it lead to a chain reaction of possibility inspiring others to give it a try.
However, as we were working one participant said something that polarized the room. She expressed how she found being asked to take part in this 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 unfolded around capability and how we judge what is and isn’t of value. Some talked about how they refused to be limited, while others talked about how they felt there was a stigma attached to acknowledging pain and frailty. We talked about adaptation and value.
Originally when I talked to Entelechy about Meet Me at the Albany, 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 session had created a stimulus for a dialogue around difficult topics. The session was part of a wider exploration I have been undertaking around the relationship between circus and falling in older people, as part of my work with Entelechy and Meet Me at the Albany. Through this process, I have spent 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). I 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 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. BrShe explained that they study how 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 people’s lives. What was perhaps most heartening was realising that what we had intuited through our work at Meet Me at the Albany — that circus could have a very tangible impact on improving our participants’ capacity to deal with the challenges around falling as they grow older — might be borne out by scientific research.