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Choreographer Uses Trapeze to Swing into Theatrical Experience

(Posted October 9, 2006)

Nate Dryden, choreographer-director for \"Airstonewater,\" uses trapeze to choreograph movement.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Breathtaking aerial choreography using the trapeze will be the cornerstone of an avant-garde new theatrical production from the Juniata College theatre program, "Airstonewater," which will run from Thursday, Oct 19 through Saturday, Oct. 21, and again from Thursday, Oct. 26 through Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Suzanne von Liebig Theatre in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts on the Juniata campus.
Performances for "Airstonewater" will be at 7:30 p.m. for all performances. Tickets are $7 for adults and $3 for students. Tickets are available at the Juniata College information desk in Ellis Hall, or at the Halbritter Center box office.
The production combines aerial choreography, natural sound and music, and spoken passages of poetry into an Asian-inspired theatrical experience that will give audiences the thrill of seeing actors seemingly fly through the air onstage.
The magic of flight is accomplished using trapeze, a single bar suspended by a rope or ropes. The trapeze, commonly associated with circus performers, is used in a more artistic sense in "Airstonewater." "There's much more focus on dancing in the air rather than feats of daring," explains Nate Dryden, co-creator and co-director of the production with Erica Kaufman. Both are members of The Gravity Project, a group of theatre professionals who work in regular residencies at Juniata. "It's a wonderful image to see someone floating above the earth in a way that is not possible without the assistance of a trapeze."
Dryden, who has been creating choreography using trapeze for more than a decade, is using the unique "industrial" space of the von Liebig Theatre to raise and lower trapeze during different points in the play. "We can continually change the orientation and the landscape for the audience by 'flying' the trapeze in and out," he says.
The trapeze used by Dryden differs from the circus models in that he often uses a triangulated trapeze suspended from a single rope, which allows the dancers to spin or circle the stage. He also can use the ropes for dramatic effect, using white ropes to frame the dancers dramatically or using black ropes to make the dancers seem to be floating in the air.
"Performing in an aerial environment is a sort of reversal of normal life," says Jesse Parsons, a junior from Roosevelt, N.J. "Support is always from above, not below, and the separation from the earth gives an instant gracefulness to all movements. Just walking on the ground afterward is odd."
Dryden usually suspends the trapeze about five to six feet off the ground. He teaches every cast member how to use the trapeze and often performs in his own productions. He says students of all physical skill levels can participate. "As a teacher I love the moment when it all clicks for the actors and they look totally confident flying through the air and the magic of theatre clicks on," he says.
The 90-minute show features a minimalist set that incorporates river stones on the set, as well as other elemental set designs. The students are collaborating with Dryden and Kaufman to create the show through improvisatory rehearsals.
Dryden, based in Tucson, Ariz., is an independent choreographer and teacher who creates pieces for two Tucson-based dance companies: Zuzi and New ARTiculations. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Irvine.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.