A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine put up an announcement on Facebook about an upcoming workshop run by one of her former cast mates, Karen Fuhrman, from De La Guarda, that sounded amazing –“Grounded Aerial: Running on Walls.” It sounded awesome but I wasn’t really considering doing it since my aerial experience is limited at best, but then I got a note that said “M, You will LOSE. YOUR. MIND! It’s so much FUN!!!” which, obviously, changed my “oh-that-sounds-cool-for-other-people” attitude to “I HAVE to go try that.”
Grounded Aerial is a performance art/dance group, mixing modern dance with specially rigged aerial elements, created by and starring veterans of such acclaimed shows and troupes as Stomp, De La Guarda, Momix, Blue Man Group,Cirque du Soleil and Pilobolus Dance Theater. While rehearsing for their upcoming show Grounded Aerial, they decided to hold a few workshops during their rehearsal week. With so much experience between them, I knew I would be in good hands!
I love the Brooklyn Lyceum – old and run down but still beautiful and I was excited to get to really see inside. It felt a little like breaking into the empty space and making my way down into the basement but then there it was…the huge white panel suspended from the ceiling that was going to be our playground for the next few hours. The class was tiny – an aerialist, a former gymnast, Karen’s friend from college and her son (his very cool birthday present) and then me. We did a few character/movement drills on the floor that my non-actory self was very bad at but that I found interesting because it was really about knowing where everyone was at all times – which, when running on the wall is important…
We all were given harnesses and I put mine on way too low and was immediately fixed by one of the riggers. Then, Karen gave us all a few tips on how the clip should sit – a wider u shape than the tighter v it naturally sits at when you put on your harness. After a little yanking and pulling to make that happen, we were all set to go. We went up in pairs. The aerialist and gymnast were together, the mom and son, and then I was paired with a new member of the troupe. The aerialist and gymnast went first and made it look so easy but I knew that it wouldn’t be… then the mom and son. By the time it was my turn, I was both dying to get up there and just completely anxious.
As I was clipped on to the rope in front of me, there were a few minutes while the rigging weight was reset from the son – I got a few breaths in and then quickly I was up on the wall. Since my partner on the wall was a troupe member, Karen could focus on helping me get used to being in the harness and how the moves should feel. She was a kind and gracious guide. What was both the most amazing feeling and the weirdest – leaning back and pushing off the wall. The move looks so easy but was so hard! I never did get the full arch back that she was looking for, so I could have audience “face time” but it was amazing to fly out and feel that weightlessness for a brief, shiny moment. Then, we moved on to running on the wall, a challenging move that was a core killer but made more sense in my brain since I could keep one hand on the rope. I have no idea how long I was up there but it was amazing, and by the time I came down, I was wiped and giddy.
The next section was shorter but included more challenging moves. Keren went up on the wall to demonstrate and I was reminded of a very important fact. Aerialists make every move look easy and beautiful but doing even the most basic move takes an incredible amount of very specific strength. The backflips and upside down moves were gorgeous when she did them but I knew it was going to be brutally hard to actually do. As the groups before me went and did an amazing job, I wondered if she had any idea how impossible those moves looked to me. Apparently she did. From the moment my turn came, Karen was with me, helping me try and get in the right position and feel how the moves should be done. I was so grateful. I tried and I tried with her help to get my flip done and when I finally managed to make it happen on my own the room erupted into applause and I was beaming. It wasn’t pretty, but it happened and I was SO proud! Then we moved on to inversions. I was better at those but by the end, I was completely wiped out -more tired than I’ve been at the end of any class in ages. I swung myself up and called it a day – an amazing, giddy, spectacular day.
Grounded Aerial will be performing at the Lehman Center For The Performing Arts in the Bronx this weekend. If you are interested in going and seeing this amazing group perform, tickets are available here.
Photos by Eric Stafford from Stafford Sports Media