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Taking Dance to New Heights

Washington and Lee aerial dance program

On Thursday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m., Washington and Lee University’s Aerial Dance program will perform at the Corcoran. Order your tickets now for this unique event. Here, Artistic Director and Assistant Professor of Dance Jenefer Davies talks about the program, and what it’s like to be an innovator of an art form as old as time.

We’ve performed inside black box and traditional theaters, which was interesting because we were able to employ the use of lighting, video, and other media as part of the performance. We’ve even included paint in an aerial piece that was choreographed specifically to create an abstract painting on the floor.

aerial performance

Aerial performance on the roof of Wilson Hall, the art and music building on the campus of Washington and Lee University.

Definitely, the Corcoran Gallery will be the most unusual place we have performed. Quite often we are situated on a wall with no ornamentation or architectural features. This gives us freedom to use the space in whatever way we wish. The Corcoran space is a

beautiful challenge. We are honored to perform in such a historic building with a wonderful history, but the fact that it is historic means that we are limited in the way we can deal with the architecture of the interior space. This presents us with a fascinating challenge. We are now working on choreography that allows us to celebrate the architecture of the space while respecting its present state.

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Clare Brown, associate chair of Exhibition Design, and students trying aerial dance at Washington and Lee. Clare leads the “Up in the Air” Directed Study team of Corcoran students: Daisy Alonso, Maizie Clarke, Ashley Hinkle, Matthew Horton, Melissa Lentz and Anne Richardson.

An interesting aside that I discovered while researching the Corcoran’s space: William Wilson Corcoran, for whom the gallery and school is named, was a benefactor of Washington and Lee University. He made many monetary donations as well as an invaluable collection of books.

Rope and harness aerial work is quite often performed against a wall. This gives the dancer a solid base from which to push away and fly through the air. Because of the historic nature of the Corcoran interior, we are not able to use the columns or molding as this base. Presently, we are working with Clare Brown and her aerial installation class to use fabricated metal rings and fabric to create some sort of hanging artwork that could serve two purposes: an art installation work and a stable place to fly from. Additionally, my students and I have been working with CAD images of the space so that our choreography reflects the style of architecture specific to the Corcoran. We plan to highlight various aspects of the architecture through movement and work with fabrics and bring attention to detail that may not be evident to the passing eye.

Presently, we are working with Clare Brown and her aerial installation class to use fabricated metal rings and fabric to create some sort of hanging artwork that could serve two purposes: an art installation work and a stable place to fly from.

I began experimenting with aerial dance about 12 years ago. I was working with a professional dance company and a group of climbers. We played on a building that was about 60 feet high and created an outdoor aerial performance based on our improvisational work. While rehearsing on the building back then it was immediately apparent that this dance form captures the imagination. We had an unexpected impromptu audience everyday as people who happen to be walking by stopped to watch.

Washington and Lee International Finance Corporation installation

Exhibition Design students at the Corcoran recently created this installation for the atrium of the International Finance Corporation in D.C. The materials from that project will be reused by the Washington and Lee dancers.

Because the rigors of aerial dance are unique, at that same time I began working on creating a strength-building movement technique specific to aerial dance. As that performance lead to others, I was able to solidify the technique for the form. When I was hired to create the dance program at Washington and Lee University, I brought my love of aerial with me and began teaching aerial classes. These have now grown to include silks and bungee aerial forms as well. The interest that I found all those years earlier was very evident in the student body.

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Aerial classes tend to draw students from across disciplines, ages and interests. The class is always a multifaceted group of scientists, economists, mathematicians, historians, athletes, dancers and others. Washington and Lee University is one of only two Colleges in this country that I am aware of that offers aerial dance as an academic class. This fact encouraged me to write about my experiences and research and I have published articles and lectured on the topic internationally.

The performance at the Corcoran takes place Thursday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. Order your tickets now for this unique event.