GPS

Introduction

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Andrews, P. Megan, Bruce Barton, and Natalia Esling. “Introduction.” Global Performance Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, 2021. https://doi.org/10.33303/gpsv4n1a1

Acknowledgment of Territory

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The work of this issue has taken place across many lands, connected by many waterways, belonging to and stewarded by Indigenous peoples since time immemorial.

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For our part, as co-editors, we write from the western regions of what is colonially known as Canada. We acknowledge the unceded, ancestral and traditional Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Qayqayt first peoples of the lower mainland of British Columbia, where Natalia and Megan reside; and the territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, where Bruce resides, which includes the Blackfoot Confederacy (comprising the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai First Nations), as well as the Tsuut’ina First Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations), along with the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

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As you engage with this body of work, we invite you to ground yourself in your physical, geographic place and to acknowledge the Indigenous presence that endures there. We include all of these places in our acknowledgement and active recognition of the territories connected by this specific, distinctly ‘elastic’ gathering.

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An Openness to Surrender, a Surrender to Openness:

(Or, Holding and Being Held)

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P. Megan Andrews, Bruce Barton, and Natalia Esling

“Elasticity” is elastic.

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At an early meeting of the Organizing Committee for the 25th annual conference of Performance Studies international (PSi), planned for July 2019 in Calgary, Alberta, the priority task on the agenda was to establish a precise theme for the event. Numerous interrelated ideas had been introduced, but the significant challenge of arriving at a distillation of these possibilities lay before us. In the committed and animated conversation that followed, the pronounced interdisciplinary diversity of performance studies became quickly and conspicuously clear. The committee had representation from music, theatre, dance and visual art, but also architecture, communications and economics. The different tempos, rhythms, and directions of these multiple distinct streams created vigorous conceptual turbulence of the most productive kind. Each of the group’s members was amiably nudged (sometimes provoked) beyond their discipline’s familiar preoccupationsand, just as effective, beyond the ready-made articulations of those preoccupations, even when common ground was quickly discovered. What was fully current in one discipline was received as novel or emergent in anotherand as passé in a third. As such, the broad range of conceptual territory that results from performances studies’ insatiable curiosity was fully at play; but so, too, was the field’s generous but determined drive to identify resonances, connections and intersections among what initially may appear as disparate ideas.

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It expands.

A conference.

An international gathering.

On the theme of elasticity

Folks gather and exert forces on the theme in diverse directions.

The elastic stretches.

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Not surprisingly, all the members of the Organizing Committee were invested in identifying an approach that emerged out of our specific environment, inclusively defined. This land, traditionally known by the Blackfoot name Moh’kins’tsis and more recently referred to as Calgary, is a starkly beautiful but regularly unforgiving space and place. And this severity extends well beyond the weather, embracing its political and ideological climates, as well. The province of Alberta’s hardy ecology, including its human population, survives and thrives through a combination of resistance, resilience and adaptation. Attempting to capture these distinct yet closely interrelated dynamics, we arrived at the idea of “Elasticity.”

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It contracts.

A publication.

An international collection.

On the theme of elasticity.

Folks gather and exert forces on the theme in diverse directions.

The elastic stretches.

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In this issue’s Call for Proposals, elasticity was presented as the adaptability and plasticity of networked connections a condition involving the ability to be shaped by an external force and to return to an original configuration if that force is removed. This quality of resilience and flexibility and of reconfiguration evokes suppleness, movement, and versatility, yet it also calls to mind parallel characteristics of strain, traction, effort, and energy. To be elastic, or for networked connections to effectively adapt, requires some degree of tension. And while the capacity to bend with ease may increase resilience, it is not without work. Flexibility necessitates strength a counterbalance in order to spring back.

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It holds.

Us. 

Ideas.

In relation.

Over time.

Across space.

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As we shared in the conference Call for Proposals,

 

An elastic and resilient ecosystem is demanded of an environment where springtime flooding is followed by prolonged drought and wildfires in the summer, and where winter chinooks can result in 30-degree temperature fluctuations in a single day [. . .] The economy, political imagination, educational systems, professional opportunities, and performing arts industry follow a comparable pattern of highs and lows, fluctuating between plenty and scarcity. It is with growing concern that we recognize this defining pull to extremes reflected on a far larger scale in global environmental, political, economic, and humanitarian contexts. As polar oppositions continue to intensify, with ever fewer checks and balances in place, we invite the PSi community to address the demands that extreme fluctuation places on the elasticity of connective tissues/processes, as well as the available modes of response.

 

In response to this call, participants in PSi#25 engaged polarization with complexity, intractability with nuance, and sedimented determination with resilient, clear-eyed invitations to reflect, reconsider, renew and reimagine.

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Throughout this editorial process, it has become apparent that elasticity is even more a perceptual quality a tone or hue that filters one’s engagement with or imagination of possible intersections between materials and concepts. I was initially surprised by the variation in interpretation around the concept of elasticity among the authors I worked with, especially how the intertwining themes of tension, resilience, flexibility, and effort emerged in different political, artistic, social, and economic contexts.

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The contributions to this volume take elasticity as theme, theory, method, metaphor, structure, process, function, expression, practice, performance, ideology, materiality and experience. For me, being part of the conference and then the editorial team has been a lived experience of elasticity in many ways and one that resonates with my own conference offering, a movement workshop in which we explored relationality while held in circles by large elastic fabric tubes and bands. 

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Witnessing the evolution of the pieces in my editorial charge, I felt my own understanding indeed my experience of elasticity morph into a lens for considering how I, as a reader and audience, might make connections among these various works beyond what is explicitly presented.

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Reflecting on the Elasticity conference itself and the editorial process for this issue, I find myself simply and quite frankly surprised and delighted (and particularly in these pandemic times) by the ways in which time, space and relationship have paradoxically both expanded and contracted throughout. From the concentrated relation of the conference event itself to its expansive aftermath as we dispersed from that anchoring experience, from the contracted form of the editorial team to the call for proposals, from the gathering of contributions to our extended reach for peer reviewers, we have been connected to one another in dynamic relation

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While I found myself prompting precise indications of how the theme of elasticity weaved through each piece, I also discovered value in allowing for implied elastic connections to emerge without force but with a level of effort through curious readership.

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As an editorial team, sometimes our relation has found momentary stasis; but always someone comes to exert a force, propelling us into our next series of actions. Always, our relation holds. Actions, reactions, proposals, responses, resistances and resolutions: this is the kinetic energy of our (elastic) project.

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This extension of thinking enacted a kind of elastic reshaping of my conceptions of what may or may not conform to the elastic theme. It also raised the question of how an elastic approach, while involving the capacity to return to an original configuration, also facilitates a complete redrawing of that configuration a change or shift in the original form brought about through flexible and empowered strategies.

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There is that email in my inbox. It sits there for a day or two. Benign. Quiet. Then, after a few days, it drops below the “fold,” buried in the daily e-valanche. But somehow it draws me with it. I resist, stretching away toward other pressing correspondence. Soon, however, I begin to feel its pull strengthening. Not every email that drops below the mark does this. This one, however, definitely exerts a force. I experience a psychosomatic filament stretching between that particular message and my bodymind . . . because that email is an index of a commitment. A relation that holds me.

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I can’t help but draw a parallel between the experience of editing these pieces over several months and the physical experience I’ve concurrently had of pregnancy the expansion of organs (condensing of others), stretching of skin, and the general malleability of the human form as it changes to grow and accommodate a new life.

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(Theres also that google doc, its digital grid-like form part of the elastic tissue of our relation. And drive folders, to-do lists, schedules, zoom links and text messages . . .)

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The womb expands and contracts through strength and flexibility. The elasticity involved in this process is both implicit and explicit, obvious and subtle, leading up to final stages of strain and release. And yet the beauty of this elastic endeavour is not so much tied to the potential for springing back to an original form as the reality of creating a new form and the capacity to continuously regenerate in this way. For some of the authors I worked with, a similar theme emerges: elasticity involves growth in overt and subtle ways that, ultimately, aim to change the original form or system. There is no bouncing back, rather a relational, material, and conceptual reconstitution of what was: bending, not breaking, in order to reform.

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And the very contracted correspondence between writer and editor. This is perhaps the most nuanced, the most finely calibrated of the elastic fibre.

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This issue is dedicated to those invitations to resist, to stretch and adapt without the surrender of integrity.

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I press into a text, touching its material of mind, testing its warp and weft and querying its tensile strength through a rapid, springing exchange with the writer. Receptivity; resistance. Responses bounce back and forth.

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To be elastic.

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Together we work the resilience of the text  its capacity to hold the ideas in dynamic relation; its capacity to receive a reader and propel them through. I invite you to lean into these contributions and experience the potential energy of these ideas.

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All the entries included here were initiated as conference contributions realized between 913 July 2019 at the University of Calgary’s School of the Creative and Performing Arts. In that context, they emerged as papers, as workshops or demonstrations, as artistic research experiments, as performances, or as some combination of the above. Each has been reimagined or translated, expanded or distilled, and crafted for publication. But just as we courted a wide range of modes and media in the conference CFP, we likewise emphasized formal experimentation in the invitation to participate in the journal issue.

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Within this elastic approach lies an element of surrender: an openness to a system moving and changing, shifting beyond our own limitations or expectations. This surrender is accompanied by awareness and adjustment, allowing for sensations or ideas to exist beyond what we can control or outside of a preconceived definition.

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In a related vein, we have also sought to reflect and respect each contribution’s roots in live exchange, and have attempted, wherever possible, to intimate the sensorial and somatic implications of shared physical space (however distant the memory of that mode of exchange may have become for many readers).

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In reading and re-reading different pieces, I felt a moment of recognition that to confine the term elastic within a preconceived parameter would, counter-intuitively, undermine the kinds of elastic formulations that stretch our thinking.

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Holding this formally disparate collection intact is its consistent, guiding preoccupation.

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The theme of elasticity is, thus, not only an offering to the authors in this issue to make connections in their work, but also an invitation to the reader and audience of this work to perceive in elastic ways to exercise a dramaturgical consciousness that is both supple and strong, and that allows for surprising meanings and relations to emerge among these works.  

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And what concept could be better suited to accommodate the mingling and jostling of so many distinct (and distinctive) voices, while ensuring the issue’s thematic integrity?

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The experience holds us, in relation.

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