Photo courtesy of Cass Onifrichnuk and Katrina Tutty

Drew McLachlan
The Navigator

Cass Onifrichuk and Katrina Tutty have been entrenched in the Island’s flow arts scene, a branch of performance arts that include hooping, poi, and fire spinning. Tutty founded the Hula Love Club at UVic, and now the two are expanding their brand with a new project, called Axiology, which they hope will take the flow arts across the Island and beyond.

Navigator: How would you describe the flow arts to somebody who has never experienced them?

Cass Onifrichuk: In terms of the physical art, it combines different elements—you have the more spiritual side and you have a connection to your own body. There’s a lot of connecting your body to a physical object through movement. If I were to describe the community itself, it’s very open. For the most part, people who are involved, whether hooping or doing anything else, are really positive, open-minded, and supportive. I haven’t come into contact with many people that I don’t get along with. Kat and I actually found each other through flow—everyone is there to create those connections and mesh with each other.

N: You mentioned a “spiritual side,” and it seems like something that’s exclusive to the flow arts. You don’t often hear people talk about the spiritual side to other performance arts.

CO: It’s actually interesting that you say that, because I’m trained in classical ballet. I wouldn’t say that there’s much spirituality involved in the flow arts that I personally do, but the reason I think of hooping in particular as spiritual is the whole idea of shutting off your body and mind, and, for lack of a better word, just flow and not worry about overthinking anything. With other types of performance arts, you’re so focused on playing your part that it doesn’t have the same effect.

Katrina Tutty: The relationship between yourself, your hoop, and the space you’re practicing in provides a great opportunity for the individual to define their own boundaries and explore how to express that beyond just using the body. It takes dance and incorporates props as a way to test physical and personal barriers.

N: If I were to attend a live flow arts performance, what could I expect to see?

CO: It really varies. I’ve been lucky enough to attend quite a few, and what I find really interesting is that most venues are built to put the performer on a stage above the audience. That’s something I would like to take out—if I were to put on a performance I’d like to have everybody on the same level. Growing up in Ontario, I would go to a bar to see a band and be on the same level as them. You’re not worried about being eight rows back, and you get to have more interactive play with your audience and create a stronger connection.

KT: It really depends on the performer’s intention. Some really popular props that people use are poi and hoops. Some people have more interactive sets, and some have more theatrical sets. It really depends on what the performer is trying to get across. They can focus on their own practice or they can try to convey that practice to an audience.

CO: I’ve noticed that the most successful people in the community are captivating and create this in-depth connection, even if you’re not looking at them. You can tell that they’re in the zone and bring out that same feeling in the audience.

N: Is there a competitive aspect to the flow arts?

CO: Yes and no. There’s no competition in the traditional “here’s a medal” sense. It’s competitive in the sense that you’re always on your toes and learning new tricks, but the flow arts community tends to share so much of their knowledge and skill. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone out with friends to “classes” that have just been about sharing knowledge.

KT: Within the flow community, there’s a lot of emphasis on self-practice, in a similar way as yoga. There’s this wealth of knowledge and it’s a focus on your own inner discipline and your own technique.

N: Are the flow arts mostly for women? Are there many men involved?

CO: I don’t think it’s exclusive to gender at all. Both men and women can do it, depending on which prop you use and your own personal interest level. Kat and I both started out with hoopdancing, but I recently picked up staff, which is predominantly more for men. When you look at online groups or go to festivals, there are definitely a number of men involved.

N: What were your introductions to the flow arts scene?

KT: I picked up hooping when I was studying at an ashram in Nelson. What really inspired a lot of my beliefs around discipline and self-practice came out of the yoga tradition and flow tradition. I was being mentored by a yogi who was really pushing me to focus on hooping and use it as a way to get over my barriers and push myself.

CO: My introduction was the total opposite. I was introduced to hooping at a house party in downtown Victoria. I had stopped doing ballet competitively a year before going to UVic. I was dancing five or six days a week before that—I would go to ballet, go to school, then come home and go back to ballet—and all of a sudden I was in university and didn’t have that. Anyway, there was a girl at this party who had hula hoops and I thought, ‘this is so weird! The West coast is so weird!’ I remember watching her, and I’m a dancer so it takes a lot to impress me with dancing, and just thinking, ‘wow, this girl is legit!’ I asked her where I could learn to do what she was doing, so she lent me a hoop and I was instantly hooked.

N: You’re both working on a new project, Axiology. How has that been going?

CO: Pretty well. It’s a bit more challenging with Kat in school, but I have more free time so I’ve been putting all of my energy into it. Working with my best friend on a super legit project is pretty fun.

KT: I think we’re both excited for our goals with the project and what it’s eventually going to grow into. We’re really excited to share it with the community.

N: Where are you hoping to take Axiology? What are your goals?

KT: It’s really multifaceted, and we want to start it by introducing flow arts to the community in a relevant and accessible way. We feel that the flow arts are still really identified with hippie culture and rave culture, and we want to show people that it has this really huge, daily, spiritual practice too. We’re really excited to see if we can encourage more people to participate, just because we’ve seen so much perspective with our own practice that we feel it can be relevant to a much wider audience. To achieve this, we’re really hoping on building an arts collective based around flow arts specifically.

CO: We actually discussed this in the most cliché way imaginable. We both went to Burning Man last year and were talking about what we could do. I was working this job in Calgary and making a lot of money, but I was really unhappy. We just kind of meshed it out and decided to create Axiology as a way for artists to connect. If you’re a photographer or painter or whatever, being an artist can be pretty lonely, especially when there aren’t any other artists around to collaborate with or even talk to. We’ve had a couple collaborations already and they’ve turned out really well.

N: Do you think a project like Axiology is missing from Vancouver Island right now? Is the scene big enough to support it?

CO: I think with our generation, with Facebook and social media, it’s really needed. There aren’t a lot of things that connect people away from the screen.

KT: I think that the intention for Axiology is to be an art collective. The focus on flow arts is a pilot theme that we want to build Axiology around, and then possibly diversify quite a bit. We feel like we should start with what we know best.

N: If somebody is interested in the flow arts, what’s the first step to getting involved?

CO: Just pick up whatever prop you want to use. For both Kat and I, it was the hoop, but that’s not the only way to go. Try out different things, see what you like, see what you don’t like, just flow with it.