The 19th Annual International Aerial Dance Festival is currently taking place in Boulder, hosted by Boulder-based studio Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance (FFAD). FFAD, a non-profit organization founded by artistic director Nancy Smith in 1988, is currently celebrating 29 years of education and performances, and presents the festival each year. Nancy literally wrote the book on aerial dance: entitled Aerial Dance, the book is co-authored by Jayne Bernasconi, and widely available online. The Aerial Dance Festival began on July 31st and continues through August 11th offering workshops, immersions, classes, and showcase performances of Toward the Light at the Dairy Arts Center August 4th-6th.
After the inaugural day of classes on Monday, July 31st, the annual lecture demonstration Intimate Encounters was offered inside the FFAD studio at 8pm. The informal performance provided a special opportunity to be up close with the aerial dance artists who are teaching and performing in the festival and to get a glimpse into their artistic process and personal artistic journeys in this innovative and daring style of performance. The artists were stretching and moving and warming their bodies up in casual rehearsal clothes on the grey marbled marley floor as festival participants and aerial enthusiasts entered the high-ceilinged studio. The crowd was buzzing with excitement and curiosity at what these thought leaders for dance in flight would bring to light.
The first excerpt presented from Toward the Light was a trapeze dance trio created by April Skelton, education director for FFAD. During Week B of the festival, August 7th-11th, April will teach Dance Trapeze Immersion with the intention of inventing and creating new movement vocabulary. April showed a snippet of her trio set to a song called “Blue Ridge Mountain” by Fleet Foxes. After the piece, she spoke about how having a four-month-old infant led her to the concept of fragmented attention for this work. The relevance to the theme of light was the tiny light of her cell phone screen in her dark house as her new infant slept. Distraction affected her creation process this year and begged the question, “Can I produce something excellent if I’m multitasking?” The response to the question led to collaboration and work deeply rooted in its context.
The next excerpt shown was created by Valerie Morris, a scientist by day who has been with FFAD since 1996. Valerie spoke of the twelve-hour days, seven days a week, that facilitate her dual life as a dancer/scientist and fulfill her creatively and professionally. She began her demonstration with a visualization exercise that took the audience to the Greenland ice sheets where she recently spent 2 months doing research. The work was inspired by the ice crystals that surrounded her on the expedition, the elevation of 9,500 feet with the effect of 11,000 feet in which she trained on fabric inside of a dome, and the cycles that she observed there. During Week B of the festival, Valerie Morris will teach low-flying trapeze and aerial poetry.
This year is Sarah Romanowsky’s first time at the International Aerial Dance Festival. She is known as the aerial social media queen from Las Vegas who boasts an impressive bio ranging from TV and film to the stage. Sarah earned a degree in modern dance, then became a Vegas show girl, and finally transitioned to aerial dance. She spoke of how her social media success has expanded her teaching career though her performing has remained unaffected by her online fame. She works on hammock, ropes, silks and hoops in the air and creates dynamic, musically driven acts that highlight her mastery of her apparatus. She performed an excerpt of her work on a ring described as “angsty aerial.”
Yuki Tsuji is a Thai massage therapist, yogi and handstand master who works with aerialists to help relieve the muscle strain associated with their intensive shoulder work and to help them train for increased stability in the shoulder girdle through the pushing action of handstands in contrast to the hanging of aerial practice. She gave an informed anatomical demonstration on how she trains bodies in handstands. She works toward injury prevention and cultivating the awareness of inversion and body orientation. The depth and ease of her knowledge was awe-inspiring.
Danielle Garrison, a Fulbright recipient who will head to France following the festival, used her work to experiment with the aerial apparatus not only as a means to flight, but as scenery on the stage that serves as weightless suspension in a tactile and kinesthetic modern dance composition. Her piece is about the experience of feeling rather than seeing and powerful presentation of the female form.
Teo Spencer, Pilobolus dancer, improvised on silks and rather than being wrapped in the fabric as is often seen. He appeared to float between the two pieces of fabric displaying incredible strength and comfort in the air. His piece in the concert is to music by Andrew Bird. Teo spoke of the technique of silks being directive in that the restraints and requirements of working in and on the fabric command possibilities in movement.
Sam Tribble glided about the space on and in a cyr wheel to Etta James’ “At Last.” He spoke of the difference between finesse and tricks and how dance relates to work on the cyr wheel. His goal is to provide more access to training on this apparatus and to bring artistic movement that has yet to be seen to the scene. He is presenting a piece in Toward the Light entitled Enso, named for the Zen Buddhist emblem that symbolizes the infinite void, the perfect meditative state, enlightenment. Sam’s nephew Austin produced the original music for the piece, which addresses perfect imperfection in humans.
The final demonstration was led by Danielle Hendricks, Frequent Flyers company member and faculty since 2002. Her piece in the concert uses various apparatus including rope and harness and bungee for a chaotic feel. The background video for her piece was recorded by phone in the train tunnel at Dulles airport, where the theme of light for the concert was conceived.
The takeaway from this amazing Lecture-Demonstration was that there is a community of serious, professional, informed and innovative aerial dance artists who represent this art form and their home is at FFAD right here in Boulder, Colorado. Frequent Flyers will perform at the Dairy Arts Center again in November 2017, in a collaboration with Block 1750.
Shelly Clements: Shelly Chapple Clements was raised in rural Pennsylvania, in Amish Country. She was drawn to the city of Pittsburgh through dance at the young age of 9 and never looked back. She currently teaches dance in Highlands Ranch, is the Artistic Director of Youth Programs for SPEC, the ballet mistress for DAMAGEDANCE, and is a faculty member at Arts Immersion. Shelly has been a Colorado resident since 2002 and holds Bachelor’s Degrees in Spanish Interpretation and Translation, Hispanic Literature, and Theatre Dance from Colorado Mesa University, and attended the graduate program at the School of Education and Human Development at University of Colorado Denver. Her passion for writing gives voice to the dancer who speaks not on the stage.