“That last arm sweep — I feel like it’s too slow. It should sweep a bit more.”
This is the advice artistic director Chloe Jensen provided to dancer Danielle Garrison this past Tuesday, April 10 during a morning rehearsal. While such advice would sound familiar to dancers, most don’t hear it while suspended 15 feet in the air, held up by nothing but fabric.
But Jensen and Garrison are both members — and, in Jensen’s case, a founder — of Aerial Dance Chicago. Specializing in aerial dance, a form that sees its participants incorporating fabrics, trapeze, bungee and suspended hoops into their choreography, the company has spent the past week in a residency at Knox. Along with fellow dancers Dina Maticiuc and Linnea Schlegel, the four have been leading workshops in the basics of aerial movement, discussing the life of a performing audience and will give a performance on Friday evening.
“Aerial dance … is a continuation of dancing into the air,” Schlegel said, describing how things like jumps could be extended exponentially when off the ground. “Not only can we dance all over the floor, we can dance in the air.
Currently in its 11th year, Aerial Dance Chicago was one of the pioneer companies in aerial dance. As a result, they created, from the ground up, much of their movement style and technique. Such experimentation was Jensen’s inspiration for initially forming the group. One of her college professors had been a trapeze artist with the circus. Jensen asked to learn some basic trapeze techniques and was instantly hooked.
“I really wanted to go in that direction,” Jensen said.
Eleven years of exploring that direction has let the company grow in what they are able to do.
“We access the air much more easily,” Jensen said. “We’re more willing to go up in the air and try more things.”
Dancers in the company all choreograph their own solos, but they also get a chance to work with visiting choreographers. Many choreographers, Maticiuc said, have an idea of what they want but aren’t familiar working with an apparatus. This is where the dancers help out — not only visiting artists but each other, giving feedback on how things look when up in the air.
“We’re lucky that we get to choreograph on each other,” Schlegel said.
Overall, however, the dancers felt that choreographing aerially wasn’t significantly different from choreographing on the ground. Both processes involved similar ideas.
“The hardest part is understanding what your limitations are,” Maticiuc said. “We try to make communication a huge role.”
For the dancers, the greatest difference in dancing aerially came in the time required to perfect a piece. A movement that can be fixed easily on the ground might take much longer to smooth out when in the air.
The result, however, is something the dancers said was widely appreciated by audiences.
“It’s not too abstract.” Schlegal said. “We have the strong technique; we have that emotive.”
“We’re real people, dancing,” Jensen said.