. Exposed highlights Atlanta’s growing aerial scene
Unique dance form goes from circus to fine art
by Sarah Freeman | June 10, 2014
Ten years ago, seeing a circus in Atlanta meant going to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey at Philips Arena — giant orange peanuts optional. But for the past several years, studios and performance companies across the country have been radically redefining and reinvigorating aerial and circus performance. Now Atlanta is swinging into its own spotlight with a vibrantly expanding aerial theater community.
Exposed: Humanity in Motion unites three aerial performance companies and studio spaces. Performers will dangle from silks, chains, poles, triple trapeze, and giant steel objects like a cube, a ladder and … a coat hanger?
“When I got into aerial in Atlanta in 2011, it was still kind of new,” says Marilyn Chen, Sky Gym alumni, and creative director of Liquid Sky, an Atlanta-based aerial, dance, and acro entertainment company. “Now it’s kind of exploding, everyone wants to do it and there are studios just popping up.”
Paper Doll Militia, a pioneering company of aerial theater, now calls Atlanta home. Founders Rain Anya and Sarah Bebe Holmes have also noticed the change. “We’re seeing not the birth, but sort of a really big surge in growth here in Atlanta, so we’re excited to be on that rise right now,” Anya says.
It’s surprising that in such an expanding industry there hasn’t been more collaboration locally, but Anya explains that the aerial community still feels small. “There’s a lot more navigation to be in a very close space … and competition,” she says.
Chen calls Exposed a milestone in the aerial community, bringing artists together to create a vision that is “about the experiences humans go through that leave your emotional state exposed.”
On top of that, the recent surge has prompted aerial artists everywhere to realize “we really do need some sort of overarching organization,” Anya says. Atlanta has been a part of that growing movement thanks to the established and upcoming studios taking part in Exposed.
Founded in 2007 by Nicole Mermans, Exposed collaborator the D’AIR Project was one of five studios selected nationally to be a part of a recent teacher certification program test. Sky Gym, featured on CNN, offers multilevel aerial fitness classes. Professional-minded aerial enthusiasts no longer need to leave Atlanta to receive proper training because, as Anya says, “There’s no lack of opportunities to learn here.”
Movement artists and regular citizens alike are attracted to aerial for its fitness benefits, creative expression, and once you try it, Chen says, “you get addicted.”
And apparently that goes for everyone.
Holmes says that she has taught people from all walks of life, from children and adults to a prominent London financial advisor, who she says, “came to me and was like, ‘I wanna learn trapeze!'” Holmes believes aerial is appealing to so many different types of people because it’s an expression of freedom. “It’s all about tapping into something that is superhuman or out of the ordinary,” she says.
The chance to be extraordinary shines through when Chen talks about why she loves performing aerial.
“When we do aerial there are always people who just have their jaws open, just like astonished and amazed,” she says. “To be able to affect someone so positively is really important to me.”
This performance seeks to do more than just astonish audience members, however. Anya explains that one of the biggest struggles aerial performers face is acceptance as a valid art form. “People think of circus and they still think of the red-nosed clown and the animals,” she says. That lack of inclusion in the fine arts world for funding and grants limits creative growth.
“It is such a modern thing that circus isn’t just in circus tents anymore, it’s in theaters now,” Holmes says. “So that awareness and reaching the greater public is something we’re hoping is going to happen more and more.”
As Atlanta’s aerial community continues to grow and collaborate, surely it won’t take a squirting flower to the face for audiences to take notice.