Rising at Dawn with Aerial Show ‘Eos’

EosThe aerial show ‘Eos’ combines circus feats with themes of rebirth

Say circus to someone over 40 and they’ll probably think of old-school clowns and prancing animals, fire eaters and tightrope walkers. But the circus has evolved, from three rings and a big top to the surrealistic morphing of technique and creativity that grew Cirque du Soleil into a worldwide performance juggernaut. Its place in our imagination now ranges from the insane-yet-somehow-Zen image of Philippe Petit tightrope walking between the twin towers to the fitness craze that blends trapeze, acrobatics, juggling, and balance. Circus has become more than a show or pastime. It has transformed into a mode of expression.

Take Allie Cooper and her ensemble AeraFlux, who created the dark, industrial-themed aerial dance show Aurora in 2014. Onstage, she showed with gravity-defying precision that circus can tell a complex, dynamic story. For Cooper’s new show, Eos—a “second phase” of the project she began with Aurora—she has partnered with fellow local aerial/acrobatic teacher and choreographer Rose Calucchia, as well as musician Logan Gritton.

“I dabbled in circus when I was young,” says Cooper, “but it wasn’t until I moved to Santa Cruz that I really became involved with the circus community.”  Since then she has traveled all over the world teaching workshops and performing. “People who don’t have a lot of exposure to circus default to the glitz, but for me, and especially abroad, it’s more of an art form, more contemporary. That’s what I’ve tried to bring back, a departure from the spectacle to embrace contemporary circus.”

She’s not daunted by the way pop culture has appropriated circus concepts into other realms like fitness: “It’s like anything. The accessibility is great, but it brings growing pains,” says Cooper. “There’s a network of artists who have been doing this for years who want to maintain the integrity of circus as a creative language. It’s just a matter of finding balance.”

Aurora used literal balance, as well as soundscapes and visual projections, to express the dissonance of conflict.

“It was about the idea of battle,” she says, “a group struggling to survive, dark and chaotic, but working together.” The notion of teamwork continues to play out in Eos, her current show and Aurora’s reflective, even somber, follow-up. Eos means “dawn” in Latin, and its stripped-down approach evokes aftermath as well as rebirth. Fittingly, the six dancers in this hour-long piece of aerial, acrobatic and dance work are young women between the ages of 12 and 15. Cooper knew they were the right performers to tell her story. “It’s a difficult time to be young and female in our country right now, so it’s important to acknowledge that vulnerability, even as we celebrate inclusiveness and strength in a group,” she says.

After two commanding presentations, will there be another chapter after Eos to complete the journey? “I hope so,” says Cooper. “I’d like to bring together the adult cast members and this young group. It would bring things full circle. The third piece will be about rebuilding.”

What inspires her about this show, she says, is the extraordinary talent at work.

“These girls may be young,” she says, “but their skill is incredible, totally professional, comparable to any high-level circus performers anywhere.”

Though Eos is family-friendly, it’s not a kids show. “These are serious themes,” Cooper says, “and yet having young people explore them, wearing utilitarian, pedestrian costumes, makes what they’re doing that much more spectacular.”

Without the glitz, in other words, there’s nowhere to hide.

“Exactly,” she says. “And that, coupled with the innocence and power these young women bring to their performance, is going to blow people away.”

AeraFlux presents ‘Eos’ at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18 and Saturday, Dec. 19 at the Santa Cruz County Memorial Veterans Building, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20 general, $15 for youth 12 and under. 800-838-3006, aeraflux.brownpapertickets.com.

ON THE UP AND UP ‘Eos’ means ‘dawn,’ and the young cast will explore themes of renewal and rebirth in the show. PHOTO: JAKE J. THOMAS

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