Using carefully rigged harnesses, performers who are trained dancers and aerialists will scurry and fly up and down walls, both ignoring and using the law of gravity to create their work. “Chance Encounters” is a site-specific piece created specifically for PIFA by Grounded Aerial founder and Artistic Director Karen Fuhrman.
Fuhrman was teaching a workshop at the Philadelphia Circus School of the Arts, (which is also presenting a show, The Green Fairy Cabaret at PIFA), and Executive Director Shana Kennedy put her in touch with the festival, and the collaboration began.
“I went in there and I saw the space, and thought: this is perfect as far as aerial land. It’s tall, with points everywhere,” Furhman said. The festival’s theme: artistic experimentation and uninhibited creativity that Paris 1910 – 1920 gave Fuhrman some ideas to start playing around with.
One of the things that Furhman kept coming back to was the idea that the period was a time when people and things sped up: they left where they were from and traveled by train, and moved from one place to the other, for reasons ranging from and including love and war. The idea of people passing, meeting, deciding to engage, or not, gave rise to the name and theme Grounded Aerial chose for the piece “Chance Encounters.”
“Chance encounters are timeless in the sense of then happening all the time; they are a human trait,” said Fuhrman. “But I’m putting it in this time and place: the French, early 20th century, time period. And still, there’s a timelessness, to it, whether you’re walking through the airport or the subway, wherever you happen to be. Catch the eye of a stranger…that’s what I’m exploring.”
Grounded Aerial works out of a studio in Williamsburg, where the wall is 16 feet high; available 90-foot walls are pretty hard to come by in Brooklyn or Philadelphia, so Fuhrman and her company are working the piece out in sections.
“With my studio, our wall is a whopping 16 feet high, which is nice to get down the gist and the very general blocking,” she said. Fuhrman is creating the piece for six professional dancer/aerialists, and six dancers from the Philadelphia University of the Arts, giving the student artists an experience working with a professional company.
“My dancer/aerialists are veterans,” Furhman explained. “We’ve all been in different aerial shows: De La Guarda, Fuerza Bruta.” Their combined many years of experience is what they’re using to estimate what the finished piece will look like, and how to get used to the space once they get on (or up on) it.
And, as the gala approaches, the company will essentially give everyone who’s passing by a good look at an open rehearsal. They’ll be up on the wall at Verizon Hall from April 4-6 for several hours a day, finishing their blocking and rehearsing and teching the piece.
Aaron Verdery is the technical director of Grounded Aerial, and the man who makes the dancers fly. Verdery was in on the project from its inception, and he’s met with the technical staff of the Kimmel Center to work out every detail of a system that will keep the aerialists safe and able to do their work.
Furhman is proud of her company’s record.
“Our history involves extensive safety training and aerial background that has been instilled in us for years. We’re trained aerialists as well as dancers: we’re not only dancers that happen to be in the air.”
The piece is choreographed and teched down to the second, Furhman explained, from the ground up. The six aerialists become 3 couples, with ensemble choreography, and a duet for one couple in the middle of the piece.
“We show how they’re meeting, and their nuances and it’s like a commentary on couples, fear involved, apprehension of developing their romance, and like a quick, then the 2 other couples on either side come back down, continue and with the remaining of the piece,” Furhman said. “It starts with a really grand ‘Moulin Rougey’ kind of waltz, then an adagio, guitar section, then after that the duet, then back to the waltz, and then the piece ends.” The company has been working on the piece, which should check in at about 12 minutes, in 3-times-a-week rehearsals for the last three months.
In addition, Grounded Aerial is doing a show closer to their home ground (or wall) at the Brooklyn Lyceum. It’s is called Insectinside, and it’s a dance/theater piece in which the 14 performers play insects. Furhman plays a Luna Moth. She’s been developing the piece for the last six years, and it just so happens that her leading man is a Spider.
(Insert “Turn Off the Dark” joke here). Or, for $15, you can buy a ticket to a show where nobody gets hurt.
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