In our new series titled Meet the Festival, we will explore some of the many festivals of the circus world. Each year, new festivals spring up around the globe and begin to establish themselves, even as others prove year after year that the circus audience is growing and diversifying. This month we are featuring the well-established Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Festival as the organizers continue to build on the successful traditions they have developed, from bringing strong guest artists to instruct and lead workshops, to providing performance opportunities for the aerial community with a showcase of performances. As they are celebrating their 20th year in 2018, the festival takes on a new level of intensity in promoting and developing the aerial arts.
Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Festival 2018 (ADF) is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to experience the joy of dancing in the air, for beginners through advanced and professional aerialist and aerial dancers. This 2-week immersion provides classes, lectures/demonstrations, informal discussions, networking, and performances.
Country and city of festival: Boulder, Colorado, USA
Date of festival: July 29-August 11, 2018
Year festival began: 1998
Immersions – Three hours per day /five days of study in an aerial discipline or related subject.
Classes – 90 minutes per day/five days of study in an aerial discipline or related subject.
Workshops – Subjects ranging from Thai massage to make-up tutorials to burlesque dancing and more.
Performances – Intimate Encounters– an evening of informal performance by the festival faculty including Q&A.
Showcase Performance – A professionally produced show including performances by the festival faculty and Frequent Flyers Professional Company.
Alumni Performance– Unique to this year’s ADF 2018 – informal performances by Frequent Flyers alumni and National Theatre Conservatory.
Number of participants: 150-200
Number of shows/performances each year: Six: Intimate Encounters – a lecture-demonstration style event but with sass, four Showcase Performances, and one Alumni Performance)
Call for applications date for following year: Artists seeking to perform and teach at ADF 2019 should submit theirresume, possible workshops they could teach, and a video of them performing to Nancy Smithnesmith@frequentflyers.org no later than Nov. 25, 2018. 2019 Festival tentative dates: July 28 – August 10, 2019
Great moments in festival history: The City of Boulder, Colorado, is declaring the week of July 29-August 5, 2018: Aerial Dance Week
Frequent Flyers has collaborated with Stalker Theatre in Australia to produce an evening-length work using real-time interactive video mapping that was featured on Rocky Mountain PBS and performed as part of ADF.
Meet Artist Jayne Bernasconi – Air Dance Bernasconi
Jayne Bernasconi (dancer/choreographer/author/yogini) has been both a participant and teacher at ADF since it’s 1999 inception. Her award-winning choreography has been seen throughout the United States and abroad for over 35 years. She trained and danced with several leading NYC post-modern choreographers including Alwin Nikolais, David Gordon, Stephen Petronio, Pooh Kaye, Steve Paxton and Bill T. Jones. She was the founder and artistic director of Forces of Ability, a movement project including people of all abilities in Vermont. Ms. Bernasconi is the founder and artistic director of Air Dance Bernasconi, based in Baltimore, Maryland. Before that, she danced with Frequent Flyers Productions where she trained and worked with aerial pioneers Nancy Smith, Terry Sendgraff and Robert Davidson. She invented and introduced the first Aerial Yoga class for the 2003 Aerial Dance Festival and since then has enjoyed watching it blossom and evolve around the globe. Bernasconi co-authored the book/DVD Aerial Dance with Nancy Smith and is an adjunct professor of aerial dance and yoga at Towson University (since 1999). Currently, she is the owner of Yoga On York, where she teaches both aerial and traditional yoga.
“As a participant and teacher/performer of ADF, I’ve had the opportunity to work among the movers and shakers of aerial dance since it’s inception in 1999. ADF has helped to define myself as an aerial artist and has given me to ability to create and invent new concepts, methods and styles in aerial dance such as mixed ability aerial dance and aerial yoga.This is a one of a kind festival with top notch international artists and every semester I tell my students to get out of Baltimore and go check out this very cool aerial festival in Boulder. They won’t be sorry.”
Meet Artist Susan Murphy – The Marsh Studio
Susan holds a Master’s degree in modern dance from Mills College in Oakland, CA and is a Certified Movement Analyst from the Laban Institute for Movement Studies in New York City. She taught modern dance and aerial dance at the U. of GA from 1999-2002. In 2002, Susan and her husband Don Carson, envisioned and built Canopy Studio, a community aerial arts center in Athens, GA. Susan served as Executive Director of Canopy until she moved to the Georgia coast in 2009, where she and Don have built The Marsh Studio, a state-of-the-art aerial dance center where she is now holding weekend aerial retreats and performances. She has performed at Lincoln Center and the Skirball Center of the Performing Arts in New York City, Frequent Flyers’ Aerial Dance Festival in Boulder, Colorado and the New England Center of Circus Arts.
“This 20th Anniversary of Frequent Flyers’ Aerial Dance Festival gives striking testimony to its commitment of honoring the pioneers of aerial dance as well as highlighting the on-the-horizon teachers/performers coming into view. Yes, ADF has been a steady beacon, inviting dancers from all over the world to honor the wisdom of tradition and partake of the innovative spirit that new teachers bring. Inspiration from the Festival spokes out into aerial communities everywhere, building relationships, creating bridges of knowledge and anchoring our art form.”
Meet Artist Alex Allan
Alex Allan, from Sydney, Australia, is an internationally recognized aerial rope artist and coach. After completing a Bachelor of Communications (Theatre/Media) at CSU, Australia, he was accepted into San Francisco Circus Center’s Professional Aerial Program. Since graduating, Alex has had the pleasure of working with companies such as Teatro Zin Zanni, Cirque Dreams, Acrobatic Conundrum, Zaccho Dance Theatre and Bad Mar Mar Dance Company as well as travelling the world teaching his rope technique. As a coach, Alex places a strong emphasis on mastering technique and efficient movement pathways. With his knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology, Alex is able to work with his students to develop a deep understanding of integrated, full-bodied movement with the goal of performing skills with grace and ease. Influenced by his diverse educational background, Alex thrives on the creation of new, unique forms of physical performance. Believing that the body has the power to convey that which words cannot, his work commonly explores themes of human existence in the modern world.
“ADF is an incredible festival. It brings people together, builds community and provides a space for professionals and students to share skills and knowledge. Participants receive exposure to a range of disciplines from instructors with varying backgrounds. Within this framework it becomes possible to explore and blend the boundaries of traditional art forms giving rise to unique and contemporary physical performance.”
Meet the Founder / Artistic Director Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith is the founder and artistic director of Boulder, Colorado, based Frequent Flyers® Productions since its inception in 1988 and the international Aerial Dance Festival since 1999. Based in Boulder, Colorado since 1985, she has taught aerial dance and Skinner Releasing Technique around the United States. Her work with Frequent Flyers® Productions has been seen in the Bahamas, Boston, Utah, Louisiana, California, Montreal, Washington DC, and throughout Colorado. The Company has performed for many corporate clients, including Cirque du Soleil, Patron Spirits, Denver Broncos and more. Her choreography was performed at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, in collaboration with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra March, 2017 and received a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. Ms. Smith has received numerous awards and honors including the “REAL” award for arts, “Living Legend of Dance” honor from the Carson Brierly Giffin Library at DU; “Women Who Light the Community” award, the first “Cutting Edge” Award from the Colorado Dance Alliance, the Boulder County Pacesetters Award for Arts and Entertainment, a Neodata Endowment Fellowship in Dance, and the “Arts Innovation Award” from the Colorado Federation of the Arts. Ms. Smith and colleague, Jayne Bernasconi (Baltimore, MD) co-authored the first book on the history of aerial dance,Aerial Dance, published, June, 2008 by Human Kinetics.
Kim Campbell: What are you most excited about with this year’s festival?
Nancy Smith: That it’s our 20th anniversary and we’re bringing back Elsie Smith from NECCA to teach and perform, as well as the other amazing instructors: Jayne Bernasconi, Alex Allan, Molly Graves, Susan Murphy and our own instructors: Valerie Morris, Danielle Hendricks, Mandy Hackman and I’ll be teaching as well. We’re also hosting a round-table discussion: “Still drinking from the cup while passing it along” that explores longevity in this art form and contributions from the “elders.”Plus the Reception and Alumni Performance noted above!
KC: What is your dream for the future of the festival?
NS: To continue to thrive and provide the excellent and sometimes life-changing experience to many more people; to bring in artists who are evolving the work around the world; and to collaborate more.
KC: How has the festival evolved over the years?
NS: The first Festival in 1999 was one week and only provided classes. There were 50 students from around the country and two international students. It was like the “lost tribe” coming together and bonding/learning. We expanded the Festival to 1.5 weeks the following year and added a performance component and then the following year it grew to two weeks with additional workshops in the evening, lecture-demonstrations, and discussions. We are seeing a higher level of aerialist skill in recent years as the reach of circus and aerial dance have continued to grow.
KC: What countries do you draw the most companies and audience from?
NS: Generally, the U.S. and Canada, although we have brought artists from Mexico, Australia, and Europe.
KC: Tell us a little about your process as artistic director? Do you look for themes and trends when curating the works?
NS: Our artists need to be adept at both teaching and performing, which isn’t always easy to be excellent in both areas. I look for artists who have a following or are in high demand and who offer artistic disciplines that make for a breadth of classes and performance pieces for the Festival.
KC: Why did you decide to focus exclusively on aerial arts?
NS: We also offer or have offered: cyr wheel, handstands, stilts, modern dance, yoga, aerial yoga, strength and flexibility classes, stretching, and contortion.
KC: What is something unique about the festival?
NS: It’s the oldest and largest of its kind. Plus, the cross-pollination of aerial dance and circus arts.
2018 is the 20th anniversary for the Festival and Frequent Flyers. As part of this year’s Festival, they are honoring Bob Davidson, one of the early adopters of aerial dance (who passed away in Dec. 2016) and Terry Sendgraff, widely recognized as the “mother of aerial dance.” They’ll be celebrating the launch of Sendraff’s’s new memoir that will be published this summer. Immediately following the reception honoring Sendgraff and Davidson they will host our first Alumni Performance by former Frequent Flyers’ company members and Professional Training Program graduates.
Also of note: Frequent Flyers’ Aerial Dance Festival hasproduced the work of more than 70 artists in the 20 years of the Festival and taught over 3,600 students.
Special thanks to Laura Burgamy for help in making this article happen! Feature photo courtesy of Nina Reed. All unattributed photos courtesy of Frequent Flyers Aerial Festival.