From the EJC in 2010
This year’s IJA Festival in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, provided a forum for jugglers to excel and enjoy what they do best. This year’s festival was organized by David Cain – juggling chronicler, performer, and competitor. The festival, which was primarily held at the Grand Wayne Convention Center in Ft. Wayne, offered some of the best versions of activities the IJA has been known for. At any hour one could find the space busy with congenial jugglers trying out skills, practicing large passing patterns and coordinated goofiness. Prop makers circled the arena from Renegade of California to What’s Up of the Midwest and Three Finger Juggling, among others.
The Embassy Theatre, hosting such jugglers in the past as Francis and Lottie Brunn, and located just across the street from the juggling venue at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, served as an elegant setting for the shows and competitions.
A recent “new circus” weekend in the Denver/Boulder area involved history, fiction, youth and some first feats. The Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance company continued its 30th anniversary season with a retrospective, Flight Path. Aerial dancer and choreographer Nancy Smith began the company in 1998. FPP offers a yearly Aerial Dance Festival and the company recently performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. with the Boulder Philharmonic.
The retrospective included work from 2002. Aerial dance, in which modern dance techniques and choreography combine with trapeze, fabric, and just about any other apparatus that performers can fly on is a relatively new art form. When Smith began creating pieces, inspired by such innovators as former diver-turned-dancer Terry Sendgraff, there had not been such diversity of apparatus.
An act called Soulever employs a device Smith refers to as “the rack,” basically a ladder that hangs parallel to the floor above performer height. Climbing the rigging as the performers do creates trapeze-like tricks. Now and then they pose in unison though the progression seems more about the individual styles and theatrical awareness. Danielle Hendricks, Valerie Morris, and Maya Muenzer followed Smith’s re-staging to the music of William Orbit.
Introducing the next piece, In The Mood, as a “buoyant and animated rendition,” Smith explained the Dairy Center was her favorite venue for this staging. Aerial dancers propel each other on bungee-like straps. Playfully choreographed chaos thrives in the vivid colors of the costuming by Annabel Reader, Jennifer Aiken, and Danielle Hendricks. Smith also joined the cast in this and a few other routines. With her were Angela Delsanter (whose work was also included in the retrospective), Sarah Harrison, Jessie Loisel, Alysha Perrin, and Megan Cattau.
In Origins of Now, an aerial rope dance performed by Valery Morris and Liam LeFey, also the co-choreographers, the duo explores all aspects of vertical relationship. It proceeded as if, “in the end escape was my only option.” Given the interaction of the performers, sometimes climbing past each other and varying the stronger roles, Origins seemed almost like a contact improv. LeFey commented that it had to be very carefully choreographed to achieve this effect.
Angela Delsanter, another longtime collaborator within the company, choreographed Micro-Waves. The ensemble piece explores cancer treatment, using radiation masks as props that hang from above. Dancers swing in hand loops and occasionally put their faces in the masks to convey the reality of the patients as they cope. “It was interesting to re-visit that piece through a different lens. I was more removed from the experience though the context was still relevant,” Delsanter said. “My son would have remembered seeing this when he was younger.” Smith, who also has a son, Gabriel, performed in the work along with Angela Folz, Sarah Harrison, and Alysha Perrin.
A Quadrille of Sorts, from the 2010 Aerial Dance Festival, featured stilt-walking by Danielle Hendricks and Valerie Morris amid acrobatics. The stilt walkers and dancers emerge as if at a party with mobile dress costumes (skirts by Annabel Reader). There may be a dash of New Orleans surrealism in addition to the Pink Floyd soundtrack. Quadrille features some continuous techniques in addition to being very fanciful. A duo on lire had the panache of a circus act as did a trapeze duet. A cello seems to float off the ground.
Various shapes and rolls, straddle hangs, toe climbs and aerial stilts culminated in a harum-scarum finale to the first act. The second act featured the live music of Spinphony, an energetic string quartet that clearly enjoys playing together. The New Work featured here by Smith and collaborators had a lot of verve and technical achievement. It culminated in Medley, with Danielle Hendricks performing aerial on sphere and Spanish Web on stilts. The new work was equally intriguing for the audience and the company in its 30th year.
In the same weekend, MOTH Poetic Circus performed a fusion of circus and literature at the Newman Center in Denver. Deena Marcum Selko, the director, started the MOTH Contemporary Circus Center in Denver and some of the performers train there on a regular basis. This “circus adventure,” a multimedia rendition, had some novel ideas, costuming, and unexpected approaches to Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic, Alice in Wonderland.
Mario Diamond engaged the audience as the White Rabbit, a mime with a clock. These drew in a variety of age groups perhaps not familiar with the beginning of the story in which there are two sisters. Originally from Montreal, Diamond has worked with MOTH for ten years and has coached many in circus pursuits from Olympic athletes to politicians.
Cressie Mae interpreted the role of Alice with some complexity, avoiding what could become a standard ingénue. Mae trained in single point trapeze with Elena Panova at the San Francisco Circus Center and is also a graduate of the Frequent Flyers Pro Track program. She will teach a dance trapeze series at the MOTH studio in Denver starting July 1. A clever device in Alice was the use of three sizes of hula hoops, from giant to mini, signifying the rabbit hole. A water set image led into slack rope and “A Pool of Tears.”
Like the book, though largely told without words excepting songs by Janet Guenther, this production was crammed with creatures and masquerading archetypes. Guenther accompanied the show live. “Most of the lyrics were connected to the original story,” said Selko, and the original mix contributed a lot to the show’s diversity and lively pace. Guenther’s music, with a combination of world influences, has been featured in adventure films and at events in the Denver/Boulder area.
“A Caucus Race” included a panorama of fanciful characters including the Dodo Bird (Kenta Benoit), the Mock Turtle (Wil Fields), and the Eagle (Nicole Fleit) on a bungee apparatus with a cat duo. In Who Are You, performers on cord lysee, straddle flips, and a Caterpillar (Ariana Ferber-Carter) astonished with her techniques. The Cheshire Cat (Kristina Shelton, Cassidy Vallin and Arija Williams) seems a natural for circus. A quartet of purple “Caterflies” (Corcoran Kane, Juliet Johnson, Callie McGinlay, and Ray Ryan) provided divertissements above.
In her debut with MOTH, Ferber-Carter proved an accomplished contortionist with Chinese-style balancing and acrobatic skills. She managed to evoke the Caterpillar’s attributes while in a chin stand and took many good-natured curtain calls. A native of Kansas City, where she participated in Quixotic, Ariana co-founded Pareidolia Contortion and worked with Circus Smirkus, Circus Bella, Celebrity Cruises, and Lucia Aerial.
Benjamin Domask of Milwaukee, WI played the Mad Hatter. Using a variety of mime and manipulation skills Domask employed character-driven tricks and teamwork. Domask has collaborated with Thom Wall of Cirque Du Soleil. He also co-founded the experimental theatre group, Curiousita. With MOTH, rather than the usual juggling he performed choice vaudevillian innovations with tables and teacups. Plate-spinning on a curve illustrated Carroll’s fanciful notions.
Marshall Jarreau, a 2011 NECCA graduate “from practically everywhere,” reached many hearts as the Red Queen. He performed skillfully on strap loops amid a chorus of flamingos and playing cards. Jarreau has also performed with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. He commandeered the stage role with happy villainy. The posse of playing cards led by Selko’s daughter, Ruby Frank, enlivened the ensemble. She said they worked on the show for the better part of a year.
The Gryphon was portrayed by Elizabeth Smith, who collaborated with Wil Fields (the Mock Turtle) in a fabric duo. Costume creations by Alisia Silliman and Tonje Williams enhanced matching fabric. One pose involved holding the fabric in a diamond shape.
“We took pieces we had both performed in other acts… experimented with them and came up with new exciting variations,” said Smith. She particularly enjoyed learning the “trust fall,” where she fell backwards to be caught by the ankles, and the “Jilly Split,” a move by Jilly Katzenberger. MOTH plans a larger version of the show next spring and encourages performers to audition for their productions.
Frequent Flyers Productions, which has a studio space in Boulder that offers ongoing programs, hosts the 20th Annual Aerial Dance Festival, July 29-August 11, 2018. This event features all kinds of classes with guest instructors such as Alex Allan (Rope & Fabric), Jayne Bernasconi (Choreography), Elsie Smith of NECCA (Fabric), Valerie Morris (Rope & Harness), Danielle Garrison (Sling), and Yuki Tsuji (Handstands).
To conclude my “new circus” weekend I performed in an aerial routine. As a juggler I find aerial arts to be challenging and joined the Aircat Student Recital on fabric at Boulder Circus Center. Cathy Gauch of Aircat Aerial Arts introduced the “Space” theme, illustrated by her students’ choreography. My trio partners Janae Magee and Diana Poulden performed for the first time. Erica Martin and Heather Passe gave an operatic rendition of skill and artistry. Professionals Laureleye MaQi Ananda and Jilly Katzenberger created a virtuosic sequence. The weekend needed no greater finale.
Frequent Flyers Join Appalachian Spring Concert
by Cindy Marvell
Appalachian Spring could be thought of from many angles: Aaron Copland’s seasoned composition, Martha Graham’s hauntingly inspiring ballet, or a new circus opportunity for an aerial fling transcending time and space. This latter type of phenomenon is most likely to materialize at a university, as it did this fall when Frequent Flyers Productions collaborated with the Boulder Ballet and the Boulder Philharmonic to create a multidisciplinary meld of motion and music.
The proscenium of Macky Auditorium on the campus of University of Colorado soars to dizzying heights. Once you climb up, you might just stay there for the duration. So this aerial dance required performers to give up the floor work and rely on airborne techniques. The ballet dancers favored ensemble configurations and gestures rather than leaps and lifts. A more traditional form of aerial dance would be able to use swing techniques to catch the glory of the climactic moments of freedom. Here the idea was to rise to the collaborative occasion.
Double hammocks came into play as a fabric rig stretched out in tent-like formation. A lyra occupied the center spot as if to complement the searching centeredness of Copland’s music. Fabric o,ne could say, has come a long way since the days of Martha Graham, yet one would have to work to feel quite the sense of freedom, quirkiness and longing her choreography imparted. Yet this version offered more complex gifts that expanded the mythology in a way traditional on-the-ground practitioners could only imagine.
Given the dual nature of this collaboration and its divided planes, the dancers were able to capture the staccato rhythms of the piece while the aerialists basked in the serenity underlying its tuneful revelry. Such basking required sustained strength and some creativity starting with how the rigging came together. Rigger Jeff Rusnak developed an imaginative map of the set, not exactly based on the one associated with the Graham company’s rendition. As anyone connected with the Mackey production will say there was no aerial dance in Graham’s version, lamentably. It has taken over half a century for the lord of the dance to see the circus light.
The delicate and uplifting tones of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra lent themselves to the airborne dryads which gamely ascended the fabric as dancers cavorted en pointe below. Lynda White, Daniel Nolasco and Stephen Pohuski were among the flyers. Graham would probably not have envisioned incorporating aerial terms like meathook, helicopter, or 360/580 drops when she suggested in 1944 that Copland name the original piece Appalachian Springafter the poem, but she might have gone with woman in the moon, lion in the tree, sleeping beauty and scorpion.
This ballet’s choreographer Alex Davison, who has performed as a dancer with the Boulder Ballet and the Edward Villella company in Miami, probably knows a bit extra about circus arts since his father Peter Davison is one of the champion jugglers from the trio Airjazz. In fact the dancers seemed to move with an intricacy of form as if they were part of a human juggling pattern.
“Because of the way the aerial equipment was rigged, a physical frame for the stage was created,” Alex Davison explains. “Through the movements of the dancers within that frame, different ideas in the piece were pictured. For instance, in our idea of the Greek gods, having the aerialists as a frame or context for the dancers on stage was a very visual and immediately understandable representation of the power and dominion of the gods over man!”
Davison also notes that, given the number of players in the orchestra plus ballet & aerial companies, this was probably the largest ensemble production anyone on stage had been involved in thus far. During a Q/A on the night of the performance, participants found it amusing when the conductor asked for a description of the activity since he lacked familiarity with it given his angle directing the orchestra.
There was a lot to see from any angle. Danielle Henricks, a mainstay FFP performer, initiated the idea to incorporate hammocks on the side diagonals similar to those used in aerial yoga. The dizzying height from which these were strung almost made it a different technique, however. Hendricks recalled that once the audience filled up the space the distance from the floor seemed to decrease and somehow the slightly wobbly frame became relatively stable. Fabric, when stretched far enough to cover the length of such a stage, acquires swag that is a bit tricky to overcome.
Aerial dance choreographer Nancy Smith summed up the staging elements as they related to the resultant effect: “The choreography needed to reflect strength, grace, beauty and some indifference to the people below. We pulled from movement vocabulary for traditional fabric climbs, locks, and drops, as well as static trapeze duo work for the center lyra. We also needed to ensure that the dancers would be safe working at 20-25 feet from the ground for 26 minutes without coming down, so resting poses were built in.”
This unperceived challenge in no way detracted from the ethereal quality Davison, Smith and Co. sought to create. The expertise of the practitioners brought a surety and artistry to the moves and pauses that harmonized with the whole. The lyra solo performed by Valerie Morris encapsulated the awe and technical expertise the audience experienced as she engaged in a silent drama of gestures with a ballerina below that Graham could hardly have objected to.
Smith describes Davison’s concept that the soloist would represent a young woman coming of age amid the at times buffeting waves of family, society, and spiritual influences: “We linked her solo to a lyra solo directly above by translating the ground movement into the aerial vocabulary for continuity.” One of the Boulder Ballet’s guiding lights, Ana Claire, Davison’s “ballet mom,” commented on the strong sense of ensemble that worked around Emily Speed to create this powerful and memorable exchange between dancer and aerialist.
While the ballet costumes conveyed a more pastoral ideology, aerial designs gave flight to the fawnlike image of airborne nymphs. At the start of the piece, the nymphs seem more in listening mode as if the music gradually fills their senses until they become harbingers of lyricism down to the last slide on an X formation as the tempo modulates. Lovely descents via hand loops should have earned some extra miles for Frequent Flyers’ next orchestral excursion.
Davison speculated the success of the entire endeavor, which was sold out to the point that I attended the dress rehearsal rather than risk contraction in the 2000-seat hall, indicated future such collaborations might be viable. The Boulder Phil had proposed this idea to Nancy Smith as a somewhat novel one given the iconic nature of the music and the fact that the aerial moves would have to be entirely off-the-ground. She was ultimately pleased with beauty of the result. “The challenges presented to us were like the grit in the oyster that created the pearl!”
FFP fans were able to see the group again in the Scrooge show Dec. 7-8 at Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. Recently another “next generation” moment occurred as Haley Sutcliff, daughter of hoop dance teacher and performer Kristina Sutcliff of O Dance, joined FFP’s youth aerial ensemble in a performance at the Boulder Theater off the Pearl Street Mall. In addition to their performances, FFP runs a massive outreach program, sometimes for neophytes who might never have thought to try aerial.
Last year, Kira Truthdancer, a Boulder expatriate from Berkeley, CA decided to expand her repertoire of juggling and contortion skills by joining FFP’s Ratcracker for some spiffy production numbers and low flying trapeze. Rehearsals generally take place at the circus warehouse FFP founding director Nancy Smith has developed in a complex off Valmont in Boulder. The Aerial Dance Festival, a yearly event in July/August, attracts several hundred aerial coaches and students for a two-week intensive training and performance.
The New York Times
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2000
YOUTHFUL HOBBIES MEET CAREERS WITH PANACHE
By CINDY MARVELL
When the creme de la creme of Brooklyn‘s New Way Circus Center comes to the William Mount-Burke Theater at the Peddie School in Hightstown on Saturday, everything in sight will be rising — not to mention swooping, rolling, flying, and tumbling. This troupe of young professionals, known as the Russian American Kids Circus, makes spirits soar and crowds roar. The 2 p.m. performance, which closes this season‘s Family Theater Series, will be followed by a 30-minute workshop for young audience members.
The circus performers themselves have some of the best in the business for coaches: veterans of Russia‘s Moscow Circus. Alex Berenchtein, winner of four international circus competitions, presides daily over a bevy of dedicated pupils who balance circus with school. Mr. Berenchtein, co-founder, his wife, Regina, and Igor Loktev, head coach, grew up in Russia, where circus buildings and schools are more common and students devote their young lives to learning the ropes from masters of the craft.
”For all my kids, it‘s a good future,‘‘ Mr. Berenchtein said from the circus‘s headquarters at the old Kings Highway Jewish Center on Avenue P. ”It is also 100 percent the best hobby.” Most of his students show up with nothing more than a desire to learn; soon they are hanging from the trapeze and hurtling across the mats. Misha Turovskoy, at 4 the youngest performer, started circus school as an alternative to trumpet lessons, and 5-year-old Lezi Ptatish, alias ”Mickey,‘‘ dons a mouse costume.
A team of talented 16-year-olds leads the cast. Andrew Vinokurov opens the show as a clown and deftly makes the transition from juggling to balancing on rolling globes to spinning plates and riding unicycles of various heights.
Tatyana Bass performs a solo hula hoop act. She and Slava Bokhman, an aerialist, have appeared twice on ”The Cosby Show.‘‘ Elaxanzra Betser specializes in diabolo, an hourglass-shaped spool that spins on a string.
Inna Kaushenskyay, 12, appears on MTV‘s ”Oddville‘‘ when not on stage. And 10-year-old Rebeka Lungin, the latest recruit, recently performed her trick bicycle act at Staten Island College.
Such stunts take years to perfect, and even the coaches need help. Olga Partigul, Ms. Berenchtein‘s mother and a full-time hospital worker, plays a key role as the school‘s executive director.
Community support and sponsorship from the Fleet Bank helped the project get off the ground.
”People like our artistic approach, and they like the results,‘‘ says Ms. Berenchtein, on her way to drop off one group of youngsters and pick up another, ”it‘s music, art and sport.‘‘
RUSSIAN AMERICAN KIDS CIRCUS
William Mount-Burke Theater, South Main Street, Hightstown. Saturday, 2 p.m.