Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Theater / May 1, 2008

Acrobats create a vertical dance space in studio theater

AMEBA, a non-profit acrobatic and aerial dance company based in Chicago, has come to Knox to change the common perceptions and stereotypes of what people expect dancing to be. Sponsored by Terpsichore and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, they performed in studio theater last Sunday at 7 p.m., receiving rave reviews from Knox dancers.

AMEBA’s style involves a lot of acrobatic and aerial maneuvering which requires a lot of back and arm strength according to co-director Kip Conwell and artistic director Chloe Jensen. Conwell is a Knox alumnus from 1998 and had always wanted to do a performance at Knox and former Knox student Molly Nicholas interned at AMEBA last summer. She and the AMEBA Company built a strong relationship and from that it was decided that AMEBA should come and perform for the Knox community.

Conwell and Jensen hope when people see the high energy and physical work that the dances require, they will be motivated to become more creative in their own lives. The purpose of the performance is partly to get people to pursue life actively with eyes wide open.

Along with that purpose, they also said they wanted to challenge the common perceptions of what dancing is. Working from what they call a “vertical dance floor,” their way of dancing is unique from the standard dance performances seen on stage. According to Conwell, the common perception of what dancers are seems to be young, skinny, and small people, mostly women. Another perception is they only engage in a horizontal dance floor rather than a three-dimensional space like what AMEBA does. In bringing AMEBA, both Conwell and Jensen, along with those that brought the group here, want to show people a different aspect of dancing.

“It’s a big challenge that we want people to appreciate,” said Conwell.

It takes a lot of time to train and set up the stages they perform on. The 12 dancers of AMEBA train 12 hours a week. These dancers, who had backgrounds in gymnastics and dancing before AMEBA, are between 23 and 46 years old and support themselves by teaching and coaching other dancers. Rigging the stages for the performance takes between 15-20 hours. For them, safety and rigging is the most important to having a successful show. Conwell joked at the Q&A after the performance on Sunday that AMEBA’s insurance comes cheap, about equal to a gymnastic studio.

Jennifer Smith, associate professor of theater and dance, said bringing AMEBA was an attempt to provide the Knox community with an opportunity to witness professional dance/theatre. She and seniors Megan Hall and Jessica Strache, along with other Terpsichore members, have really pushed for AMEBA coming. Smith was the one in charge of the actual negotiations with AMEBA in getting the contracts and budget worked out. Strache helped with the grant that was issued by the Illinois Arts Council. Hall and other Terpsichore members did fund raisers in order to raise the money needed to make this event financially possible.

“We want to change the perception of the dance world, to show another aspect of dance,” said Smith.

The entire performance consisted of nine pieces, all but two of them used aerial equipment which varied from trampolines to bungee cords. The audience was awed and amazed as the performers swung, climbed, suspended themselves, and did other aerial and acrobatic feats with the equipment in their dances. Though each dance took a minute or two to set up, the extra wait was worth it as the audience cheered their approval of the show. Seniors Saras Gil and Adrianna Greising both were very happy with the show.

“That was the best performance I’d ever seen at Knox,” said Gil.

“I’m looking forward to participating in the workshops,” said Greising.

All in all, it looks like AMEBA’s coming to Knox has had a positive influence on the community. Smith and Conwell mentioned a piece called “Proteus Burp” in the upcoming Knox Theatre and Dance Department’s Spring main stage called “Journeys.” This piece will have an incorporation of the type of dancing that AMEBA is so well known for. AMEBA is holding workshops through Friday for anyone who is interested in learning what AMEBA does.

Patrick Cogar

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