Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Amy Ell dances on Air at Big Range Dance Festival

Photo by Louis Saletan: Amy Ell, top, and Toni Valle.
Photo by Louis Saletan:
Amy Ell, top, and Toni Valle.

Amy Ell, Houston's leading air dancer and aerial teacher, headlines Program C (June 12-13) of the Big Range Dance Festival at Barnevelder, which begins this weekend. Ell has gathered her flying chops from the nation's top aerial and circus performers including studies with Cirque veterans the Gemini Twins, Frequent Flyer Productions in Boulder and Fran Sperling. Ell's impressive range of skills include trapeze, silks and hoop. She gives us the lowdown on the high dancing life:

29-95: Have you always been a daredevil type?

Amy Ell: Anybody who has ever worked with me would say yes.

29-95: Tell us about your first dance flight.

AE: Choreographer Sarah Irwin put me on a bungee in 1989 off the docks at DiverseWorks. The only downside was having the urge to vomit because of all the spinning.

29-95: Did you love being in the air right away?

AE: Yes. I studied gymnastics and had a trampoline when I was a kid. You gain an enormous awareness of your body moving through space in gymnastics. My step-mom put me in dance because she thought I was clumsy. I was always falling. I still fall, just not on stage.

29-95: Doesn't falling work well for aerial?

AE: Actually, yes, but I have a fear of heights. As long as I don't look down I am fine. I can go up 30 ft. and not realize I am up that high.

29-95: What attracts you to aerial dance?

AE: It's about using the stage in a different format. How do we consider the space above our head? It's not just about your feet on the floor. I wanted to move in the entire space.

Photo by Louis Saletan

Photo by Louis Saletan

29-95: Talk the work you are doing at the Big Range.

AE: I am expanding on a piece I did for the UH ensemble called "Thread." It involves 22 ft. long skirts tethered to the ground. I have expanded the piece to include white fabric from the ceiling.

29-95: So the skirts fly?

AE: Yes, but they also limit the dancers. I am interested in working within limits. In aerial you always have constraints. I was thinking of cultural limitations imposed on women.

29-95: How do you explore a social issue while hanging upside down from a white silk?

AE: It's just another limitation. One limitation from the floor, and another from the ceiling.

29-95: Are you dancing in it?

AE: Yes, on Friday night. On Saturday, my daughter Ciri will fill in for me. So it's me and mini me.

29-95: What's up (forgive the pun) next?

AE: I have been working with French choreographer Fred Deb'. She's been coaching me with a new work of mine, which you will hopefully see in the fall.

Amy Ell performs in Program C of the Big Range Dance Festival, which runs May 29-June 14th at Barnevelder Movement Arts. Ticket prices change per performance, but are generally $14-$18. Call 713-529-1819 for more information.

Reprinted from