For the past 11 years, Wise Fool New Mexico has produced Bust—an annual workshop and performance in which women of all ages, backgrounds and abilities come together for a six-week course designed to build circus prowess and encourage empowerment. This year's group is comprised of 27 women ranging in age from 16 to 60s. They present their culminating workshop performance this coming weekend at the Armory for the Arts.

"Every year, Bust has a new theme," program director Deirdre Morris explains. "On the first day of the workshop, we give the women a list of questions to provoke dialogue around why they signed up and what obstacles they faced in doing so. We also ask them about what's personally and politically going on in their lives. From there, we find common themes among participants and put them on a big sheet of paper. Throughout the workshop, we sit with those themes and eventually vote on what will be the focus. This year, the group chose 'transformation.'"

Morris has witnessed several transformations herself since 1999, when she began working with Wise Fool. Born out of a puppetry intervention in San Francisco, Wise Fool was founded on the precepts of arts-based community activism when a collective of circus performers and puppeteers came to New Mexico to set up shop, so to speak. During her long tenure with the troupe, Morris has helped direct as well as develop programming and space. Her personal background is in performance, theater and dance. She danced in New York before moving to Santa Fe to go to massage school. She was behind Bust from the beginning. "It's one of my baby projects," she says.

Beyond teaching women circus skills, Bust attempts to bridge women and community. "We asked, how can we empower women? Circus arts bring up a lot of physical and mental emotions for people," Morris says. "You come up against your physical limitations in a very real way when you start doing circus work. You also have to push your fears around what you think you can or can't do. When you allow yourself to push the limitations you've set in your life, you discover you really can climb a trapeze and be okay. It shifts women's attitudes; they become more confident and do things they didn't think they could."

She continues, "Some people who have come through our program deal with really big life issues, and they need this community in a different way than they need family or friends. They need a community that holds them accountable for what they do with their bodies and says, 'You are strong. You can do this.'"

Bust's culminating performance is open to the public and allows for everyone to take home a bit of the newfound transformation of its participants. "Family and friends come and see their mom up on the trapeze or their sister doing a hysterical clowning act, and they may think, 'If those women can do this after six weeks, what can I do after six weeks?'" Morris says. "You see women doing beautiful things with their bodies, having fun and being vulnerable. The more vulnerable we show ourselves to be, the more everyone sees we all have edges in our lives."

When that is compounded by a community of women pushing boundaries together, the camaraderie is amazing to behold. "Younger women can encourage older women, and older women can hold the space for younger women to try new things. There's something really magical about it," she says. "I always walk away from the workshop learning way more than I ever teach."

Wise Fool's Bust
7:30 pm Friday, June 26; 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Saturday, June 27; $5-$15
Armory for the Arts
1056 Old Pecos Trail