Breaking the Ice: A New Conversation in Theatre

"So, what do you guys do?"

"We're aerialists."

[Confused pause] "Um, what's that, like trapeze?"

"Well, yes we've both done trapeze but it's more like extreme-physical-theater or flying-dance"

"What like stunts?"

"Well, yes we both do stunts also, but..."

This is pretty much how one of those awkward ice-breaker conversations go, when I try to explain what my partner Bill and I do. There's is no real description in the English language yet, for the type of performer and theater we practice. In launching our new show Breaking Surface there are some obvious challenges in telling this story to an uninitiated audience.

The world of theater and performance is changing rapidly and its vernacular is struggling to keep up. Bill and I have very different backgrounds and yet we define ourselves as the same genre of artist. He was a national level gymnast, who began competing at age six. As an exceptionally gifted young athlete, he accelerated quickly to the top ranks in state and national competitions, working his way to the Olympic Training center, and then to the University of Nebraska, where he was team captain and an All American. After graduating he quickly realized desk work was not for him, and began to dabble in stunts for film and TV -- (remember that Skoda advert? That was Billy!)

I began my professional career with The Vanaver Caravan world music & dance company, and while I defined myself as a dancer, we were also musicians. My training was actually in physical theater, ballet, contemporary modern, folk dance and martial arts (I'm pretty mean with the short sword!). After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, I found flying trapeze, which sent me down the road to other circus arts. It was a natural fit, but I would never consider myself a circus artist; I'm not trained in any one skill-set like my circus colleagues, and in my mind it feels disrespectful of the truly dedicated circus artists I so admire.

Bill and I met, while performing De La Guarda, an Off-Broadway experience from Argentina that took the theater world by storm. Both of us had the experience the first time seeing it of "Oh. Finally, this is where I fit!" It was raw, emotional and physical in ways that artists like ourselves can only dream of having a chance to perform.

Soon, and very naturally, our group of aerially-inclined actors, dancers, gymnasts and designers gravitated toward each other and founded AiRealistic. Formed of long-time friends, colleagues and siblings we began creating site-specific aerial theater. Over time we developed our own flying style, and honed our techniques so that any small number of us could jump into any given situation or location and "make it fly." Now we are spread across the country with multiple branches of the company active, although we work together often and from afar.

Bill and I have been building Breaking Surface Flying-Dance-Theater Over Water. In examining the differences between us and, quite literally, the space between the floor and ceiling; we have developed a physical language for what lives between our imaginations and emotions. For us, it is about melding the many pieces of our career paths, passions and points of view and examining the spaces between each "style" with adventure, romance and physical story-telling.

Our hope with Breaking Surface is to start a new conversation about what theater can do, and where it can go. Circus and other acrobatic skills are creeping their way into mainstream performance, from the Metropolitan Opera to Spider Man. But for some, "circus" is still a dirty word, conjuring images of bearded ladies and clown cars, or maybe Cirque Du Soliel. Circus is all of these wonderful things and much more. However, the aerial arts are growing to encompass a much larger world: one that includes dance, story-telling, puppetry, music, projection, politics, installation art, interactive performance and much, much more.

Are we dancers, acrobats, actors, circus artists or stunt people? The answer is yes, all of the above! We believe that in today's world this is what audiences are ready to see, we just don't have the right words to describe it yet.

Breaking Surface