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20th Anniversary

Aeriosa and the Art of Aerial Dance

We kick off our new season on October 2 with a special 20th anniversary edition of the Scotiabank Dance Centre Open House. One of the highlights will be Aeriosa, performing on the side of the building: we caught up with Artistic Director Julia Taffe to find out more.

How did you come to specialize in aerial dance?

I trained at professional dance schools in Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto and New York throughout the eighties, and I was a founding member of two small dance companies in Winnipeg that performed across Canada. In 1993, I moved to BC to immerse myself in rock climbing and mountain culture while training to be a professional guide. I was drawn to climbing as a form of performance in the natural world. I loved applying my skills and passion for movement in a visceral and literal dance with the landscape. I also found that climbing mountains improved my tenacity and focus as a dancer and gave me new confidence on stage.

A few years after I started climbing, I connected with Amelia Rudolph, the founder of aerial dance company Bandaloop in California. She mentored me during her company projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, the High Sierra and Banff. Amelia and have been close friends and collaborative peers for almost three decades now.

How would you describe aerial dance?

Aerial dance is a broad term that is commonly used to describe circus arts performed with suspended apparatus. I don’t use that term very often when I discuss my own work. I have no training in aerial circus arts. My primary practice involves working with rope and harness rigging systems that suspend the dancers and allow them to interact with surfaces of any size, at many various angles and orientations. I am intrigued by the way this allows me to explore new surroundings and situations for dance practice. I have created intimate, introverted choreography hovering a few inches above the ground as well as works where the dancers must climb a mountain or descend a building in order to access an enormous wall and transform it into their vertical stage.

How do you find and train performers?

In the early days, I sought out close friends and who shared my love of athleticism and that I knew could handle the mental challenges of working at height on cliffs and buildings. Those dancers learned on the job, as we created and performed together. Later on, I held public workshops for professional dancers in Vancouver and recruited dancers from those participants.

Aeriosa performed at Scotiabank Dance Centre’s opening 20 years ago and at the tenth anniversary, what was that like?

The performance that I created for Scotiabank Dance Centre’s opening took place a few years before Aeriosa was established as a company. In fact, it was the first performance I choreographed on a building. There were four dancers involved and it was an exhilarating experience because we were doing something totally new for our group and for Vancouver. At the same time, 9/11 happened, and that shifted the world in so many ways. The response from the media was interesting – some outlets cancelled plans to report on our performance, however, the Vancouver Sun published an editorial entitled “Now More Than Ever, We Need Acts of Creation” and talked about how our presence had a transformative effect that reframed vertical space in the city in a good way.

I think that Aeriosa disrupted some status quo conventions of the Canadian dance community in those early days. In some ways that was wonderful, in and other ways it was difficult. At the time, the definition of professional dance was pretty narrow and many artists were shut out of the conversation. I am thankful to have survived the bumps along the way and to have established a community of dancers and audiences who are drawn to this art form.

By the time Aeriosa performed for Scotiabank Dance Centre’s tenth anniversary in 2011, we had presented commissions at the Banff Centre, Taipei City Hall, Cirque du Soleil in Montreal and with the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad. I had a larger company of dancers to work with, and professional management. All those things combined to allow Aeriosa to create a show that began inside the theatre and then continued to spill outside, over the roof, onto the north wall of the building. We worked with composer Jordan Nobles, animator Michael Mann, projection designer Tim Matheson and lighting designer Jason Dubois. I think that show Being was quite magical, and it also consolidated a consistent roster of talented Vancouver-based dancers including Julia Carr, Meghan Goodman, Cara Siu, Lisa Gelley and Keely Sills.

What is it like to dance on the side of a building?

Dancing on walls is hard work, but it is also glorious, because of what we call “loft”. When suspended from a long rope, the dancer can leap and twirl in the air and glide across the wall in ways that are not possible on the ground. With that in mind however, it is also important to never forget that safety is integral to the art form and we are working in public, so we have a responsibility to ourselves and everyone else to be cautious and well-prepared at all times.

How have you adapted your practice during the pandemic?

Zoom, zoom, zooming for meetings and training, even for some rehearsals. Aeriosa has also shifted to more solo and duet choreography. We don’t take it for granted that dancers will just reach out and touch each other anymore, everything is discussed, agreed to and planned in advance.

What is your next project?

Aeriosa is continuing our collaboration with visual artist Sarah Fuller, working with her moth cloaks, and staging nature-based performances of Habitats & Camouflage as part of the Tofino Tree Festival in 2022.

We are also co-producing a new show called Dancing to Remember with Indigenous dance group Butterflies in Spirit, in honor of their tenth anniversary raising awareness of their lost loved ones who are Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

As well we will be collaborating with Deaf Theatre Artist Landon Krenz, on a new theatre-based production in Vancouver.

Lastly, we are hoping to present the second edition of the Vancouver International Vertical Dance Summit, to provide opportunities for local and international vertical dance choreographers to present new site works in Vancouver as well as offer professional performers who are interested in vertical dance the chance to train and network with the community.

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Scotiabank Dance Centre Open House
Saturday October 2, 2021 1-6pm
Info and Registration Here

Photos: Tim Matheson and Louise Cecil. Moth Cloaks by Sarah Fuller