Unearthed: Aerial Dance

Early this morning I dreamed I was having an affair with my girlfriends sisters boyfriend (You get all that?). I awoke askance, before falling back to sleep and dreaming I was having an affair with my sisters boyfriend. This time, I woke up tangled in sheets and hanging precariously from the side of the bed. I bring this up for two reasons. 1) When something incredibly embarrassing happens, I feel it best to tell as many people as possible. 2) Waking up suspended in sheets is the closest I hope to come to aerial ballet.

Not so for former gymnast and current Aerial Dance Chicago artistic director Chloe Jensen. Though I know nothing about Jensens subconscious, talking with her, its clear air-borne dance is her natural calling. In addition to teaching classes, Jensen choreographed Unearth, an aerial dance meant to depict the beauty and fragility of life, and the role we play as citizens of the planet. Performed through July 23 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, the environmentally friendly show promises a sweeping score and awe-inspiring choreography. No inter-family affairs though, as far as I know.

Our Town How does choreographing aerial dances differ from choreographing one that takes place on the ground?

Chloe Jensen The possibilities are what make it exciting. You have to think in three-dimensional space and consider things such as height, pendulum, different relationships with gravity, weight shifting and using your entire body, including your upper body to a greater degree. You can turn, leap and jump, but you can also spin, swing and fly! You can move upward along what we call our “vertical dance floor” or you can experiment with a whole new relationship with gravity, for instance with a bungee, your weight becomes closer to what it is like to move through water than it is like when you dance on the ground.

OT Whats your process like, from inspiration to final product?

CJ My process utilizes experimentation right up until the final product is set. I like to start with a few ideas and set those on the dancers and then use their energy and emotions to help drive the substance of the piece.

OT Your dancers seem more muscular than ballet skinny. Is this something you consciously chose when casting?

CJ In Aerial Dance, we don’t feel restricted by the standards that might exist within the innermost circles of ballet, we are reaching outside the traditional boundaries of the art of dance, and in doing so, I think we are able to let go of some of the ideals that damage the body image. You can’t be too scrawny doing this type of work because it requires great athleticism and whole-body strength and control.

OT How did you create an ecologically responsible show?

CJ To produce ecologically, we considered all aspects of the show, from rehearsals through performances and researched ways to minimize environmental impact for each. For rigging, rather than purchase new equipment, we re-fabricated material that we already owned and the result was quite visually stunning. Rather than printing thousands of paper programs, we rely on announcements and the display boards in the lobby of the theatre to communicate with the audience. For rehearsals and shows, our artists used bicycle, carpool and public transportation. Our rigging staff even transported all rigging to the theater on load-in day via bicycle trailer! We had daytime rehearsals and utilized natural lighting through the skylight of the studio rather than relying on electricity for lighting. Instead of burning CD’s, we transferred files back and forth to each other though the use of a USB drive. Our office utilized 100% recycled paper and we have strategies in place to minimize energy usage.

OT Why did you decide to start teaching aerial dance to nonprofessionals?

CJ This is a truly amazing art form and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. I felt it would provide our community with an artistic, athletic activity that would give people a personal sense of empowerment and accomplishment and contribute to an active lifestyle.

OT Whats the best part of teaching?

CJ There is something neat about watching a student the first time they get up into the air. It is as if aerial work connects us all to a kid-like sense of adventure, like you are on the swing at a playground again! But, I think the best part of teaching is watching a student grow over time. It doesn’t happen instantly, our students have to really work hard. But, that hard work pays off and when students learn a challenging new skill, something they may have even thought was beyond their reach at first, it is truly amazing to see their faces light up and their energy charged. It is very empowering. I think it makes people realize that, if you put your mind (and your body) to something and practice and work diligently, amazing things really are possible.

For more information on Unearthed or to purchase tickets go here. Follow Jensen on twitter at @AerialEarth

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, Herself When Shes Missing,” is forthcoming from Counter Point Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicagos StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually.

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