DEMO44 Paloma Leyton — Variations sur le corps, la suspension et la précarité

April 2024

From November 11 to 25, 2023, Paloma Leyton [student member, UQAM] participated in a residency at the Agora of the Cœur des sciences de l’UQAM to develop choreographic approaches for her doctoral thesis project. Drawing on her background in aerial circus disciplines, she created an unstable aerial apparatus to develop an aerial practice focused on awareness. In this DEMO, Paloma further explains her project, from the Hexagram residency to its final form.

Approach and process

As an artist, teacher, and researcher, I have always been passionate about aerial circus techniques. Since 2017, my work has focused on exploring the roles of gravity management and perception in the movement of the body in suspension, particularly through a series of unstable aerial apparatus of my own design.

Unlike conventional aerial apparatuses, my unstable apparatuses respond to the weight of the acrobat instead of supporting it. This means that the body can’t rely on the object to perform or to adapt the acrobatic movements it has been trained for. Instead, it must adapt to the precariousness of the apparatus rather than trying to successfully control it. However, this kind of physical work deepens the awareness of weight management, muscular compensation, and efficient movement, whether working solo or in collaboration. Currently, I have ventured on a first-person study to better understand the somatic aspects of this work and explore the encodings of its aesthetic dimension. Thus far, this study has taken the form of a solo creation on an unstable trapeze.

Work at the LAVI, biofeedback test with Gaëlle Scali.
Video projection tests at the LAVI.
Preliminary structure at the LAVI.
Répétition en résidence à la Tohu.

The title of my thesis, supervised by Andrée Martin and Enrico Pitozzi from UQAM and UNIBO respectively, is ‘Pour une pratique aérienne d’écoute. Liens écologie-imaginaires dans le mouvement du corps en suspension sur un agrès instable’. The thesis aims to develop the perspective of an aerial practice of awareness (that in French, I chose to name “écoute”). By ‘awareness,’ I refer to a state of sensory receptivity and performative interaction with elements such as the body’s orientation in relation to the apparatus, space, relationship to the ground, falls, injuries, affects, sound, light, the audience, and finally, the precariousness of the action of moving in suspension on an apparatus that is unstable.

All these aspects serve as tools for first-person research during work sessions in the studio and public presentations of the piece. From this perspective, suspension can be approached as a way to practice awareness, becoming a mean of embodied investigation that considers the dialectical and phenomenological tensions of this practice.

Résidence Hexagram : Agora du Cœur des sciences, 11-15 novembre 2023

My approach to the circus as a device for the staging of the relationship between human beings and gravity revolves around the search for an empathetic conception of movement in suspension.

The scenic device I have assembled during my creation process incorporates all elements of the performance, without assigning hierarchy to the performer, apparatus, or choreography. The focus is on being present and attentive to the surrounding circumstances and elements. The objective is to create an environment that enhances the performer’s awareness of these dynamics, making them perceptible to the audience. This device has evolved through adaptation to each residency location, arising from serendipitous discoveries and practical adjustments to the opportunities and limitations of each space and each moment.

During Hexagram’s residency at Agora du Cœur des sciences, my project’s team and I worked for five days to carry out the technical integration of the device and prepare a preliminary structure of the piece. We then refined it during a month-long residency at UQAM’s Dance Department, prior to the final presentation.

During our residency at Agora, I collaborated with Bastian A. Miranda (stage lighting) and Marc-André Cossette (programming, sound and audiovisual). The goal of our work was to integrate the components generated in each previous phase of the residency: a real-time system for generating visual content with a program for randomly triggering sounds, a traditional approach to light design, and an approach to performance in suspension based on certain aspects drawn from a series of somatic practices. For this final dimension, I was responsible for interpretation, with the outside perspective of Johanne Pelletier and under the direction of Andrée Martin.

This intensive work phase at Agora du Coeur des sciences facilitated our entry into the final residency at the Laboratoire Arts Vivants et Interdisciplinarité (LAVI, January 31-February 9, 2024). During this residency, we adapted the preliminary structure of the piece to a semi-immersive stage with a German-style disposition with three screens, where the audience was seated in a traditional way, following a linear perspective toward the stage. The final period involved a month of rehearsals aimed at fine-tuning the work, culminating in the final presentations (DEMO Hexagram) on February 6 and 8, 2024.

Working in a state of deep awareness demands considerable effort, and a continuum of perceptual openness throughout the duration of the performance. The performer’s attitude leans towards introspection and moves away from spectacularity. This makes the performer extremely vulnerable to the audience and its expectations, implicitly inviting the audience to adopt a similar contemplative attitude, to lend the same kind of awareness. Thus, the ultimate meaning of the performance lies in generating empathy: a moment of shared vulnerability between performer and audience through this aesthetic, contemplative experience, rooted in the present moment.

The process of creating this piece has taught me that sharing this genuine vulnerability (without pretense, acting or overacting), in a context that values prowess and expects excellence, poses a significant challenge both in creation and in research.

Variations sur le corps, la suspension et la précarité (2024)

The performance consists in a 45-minute solo for a performer and an unstable trapeze. It unfolds from a series of variations on three movement phrases, alternating between ground and suspension. Each section is accompanied by variations in the stage set-up, presenting the body in a different way and building a contemplative atmosphere with each ‘tableau’. These transformations explore various forms of precariousness, influenced by the body’s gravity management, the instability of the apparatus, and the changes in the lighting, the sound, and the projections.

The precariousness evoked here is not intended as a representation of imbalance or endangerment in the first degree. Instead, my approach to precariousness came from a personal experience and became the starting point for my research, not the result. I aim to consider precariousness from a situated approach, not as a constraint, but as a resource, in both its physical and symbolic dimensions. For example, an unstable trapeze radically conditions the way the body moves in suspension and on stage. Instead of mastering the environment (like in traditional circus), the artist accepts being part of a perpetual negotiation, dialogue, or questioning with it. Over time, the body becomes increasingly capable of controlling itself in this unstable environment. However, the research and performance objectives evolve with the process. Thus, from this perspective, an unstable apparatus is not meant to be completely mastered.

The intention is not to be or resemble an ‘aerialist’, but to be sensitive to the fragility of the relationships between the body, the apparatus, gravity, space, sound, emotions, and others. Balance and imbalance are not sought-after goals or images, but states to navigate through in the transition towards new possibilities of being aware.

Images courtesy of Paloma Leyton.

My experience has been shaped by my involvement in academic, artistic, educational, and community organizations in Argentina, Spain, France, Italy, Norway, and Canada. I have pursued a career that combines research, creative work, and teaching in the visual arts and aerial disciplines. In the realm of art education, I have collaborated with esteemed institutions such as La Biennale di Venezia and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

As a visual artist, I have exhibited my work at prestigious venues such as Ars Electronica, La Biennale di Venezia, Centre d’Art Contemporain Franco-Chinois, Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa, Carré d’Art, U10 Umetnicki prostor, and the Festival International de VideodanzaBA.

Additionally, I have worked as an aerialist, performing for various companies, and developing my own creative projects. Since 2014, I have taught aerial techniques in various schools, which has been foundational for the doctoral research I am currently developing. Currently, I teach aerial disciplines and coordinate training programs at École de Cirque de Verdun in Montreal.


As part of
Doctorat en Études et Pratiques des Arts (UQAM)
/Dottorato in Arti Visive, Performative e Mediali (Alma Mater Studiorum — Università di Bologna)

Under the supervision of
Andrée Martin and Enrico Pitozzi

Creation and performance
Paloma Leyton

Marc-André Cossette (programming, sound, audiovisual)
Bastian A. Miranda (lightning)
Johanne Pelletier (external look)

Video Recording
Agustina Isidori
Gaëlle Scali

Agustina Isidori
Gaëlle Scali
Kitiya Phouthonesy

Thanks to the external viewpoints of
Mélanie-Beby Robert
Juan Pablo Corvalán & Javiera Osorio
Francisco Wagner
Sabine Jean during exploration stages

Thanks also to
Fred Gérard, Elia Seclet et Marion Cossin
Guy Cools, Éliane Cantin et Alain Bolduc
Gaëlle Scali

This project received support from
Doctorat en Études et Pratiques des Arts — Faculté des Arts, UQAM
Département de Danse — Université du Québec à Montréal
Laboratoire Arts Vivants et Interdisciplinarité (LAVI)
Alma Mater Studiorum — Università di Bologna
Centre pour la Recherche, l’Innovation et le Transfert en Arts du Cirque (CRITAC)
Hexagram — réseau de recherche-création en arts, cultures et technologies
École de Cirque de Verdun

Cette publication est également disponible en : Français (French)