Up and Away in Flagstaff

An Interview with Abby Chan of Dark Sky Aerial

Dark Sky Aerial is an aerial dance theater company based in Flagstaff, Arizona, comprised of dancers, acrobats, actors, and artists working together to construct interactive worlds into which they invite their audience. Abby Chan, one of Dark Sky Aerial’s founders, discusses the impact the company has on its members and community.

This interview is part of Where Dance Is, a series of interviews with dance artists working outside major metropolitan centers.

Ed Moss Photography 3

Photo by Ed Moss

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Where do you live and work, and how did you come to be based there? 

I was born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona. I left for school to become a registered dietitian, and then returned to Flagstaff to open a private practice. I chose to stay for many reasons, one of the main reasons being the access to the outdoors. I love mountain biking, trail running and climbing. Flagstaff is the perfect smallish town, with access to the arts as well as outdoors.

Dark Sky Aerial (DSA) was originally created when Carrie Gaydos, one of the four directors of DSA, received a grant from the Flagstaff Arts Council for the Arts and Sciences. This marked the beginning of DSA, allowing Carrie and the other four directors – myself, Elisa Venezia, Isabele Dove-Robinson and Joan Garcia – to create our first aerial installation, called OPIA. We have varied backgrounds, coming to Flagstaff from San Francisco, Crested Butte (CO), Montana, and Baltimore. Our love of aerial theater is what brought us together.

Since our first show, we have co-collaborated with 20 Moons dance company in Durango, CO, Flem Chen Circus and Fire Theater, and CaZo Dance Company in Phoenix, AZ.

Darl Sky Aerial 2

Can you describe your current dance and teaching practice?

I started teaching dance at the age of 15, and this helped pave the way to becoming a teacher as well as educator. Since, I have taught Pilates, ballet, jazz, lyrical, yoga and aerial. Currently, I teach yoga, and choreograph my flows to incorporate dance movements and creative transitions. Due to my current professional demands, yoga is the only movement form that fits in my schedule. Because of this, I have used it to foster a creative outlet that involves the connection with the body, breath and music. As one of the directors of Dark Sky Aerial (DSA), we spend a lot of time of time creating and choreographing vignettes that are woven into our large-scale shows.

DSA’s current dance style and practice is vast. We specialize in aerial dance and harness dance, which is vertical floor dance. Our company members are trained in modern, contemporary, ballet and jazz as well as capoeira and other movement backgrounds. Aerial dance training is also very specific to the apparatus. Our company members train in various apparatuses which include lyra, aerial fabric, straps, pole, trapeze and acro dance. Our home studio, Momentum Aerial, offers classes and training in all these apparatuses. We collaborate with local dance studios including Canyon Movement Company and Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy for floor dance training.

Gean Shanks Photography 2

Photo by Gean Shanks

How would you describe the general dance scene where you live? 

Although Flagstaff is a “small town,” the dance scene in Flagstaff is rich in opportunities for modern, contemporary and partnered dance. Flagstaff also has one of the richest aerial communities around. The support and involvement of the community is a beautiful sight.

What do you perceive are some benefits to working where you live? 

The key benefit of working and living in Flagstaff as an artist is the community. Flagstaff has a very supportive and nurturing community of artists and arts lovers. The Flagstaff Arts Council has embraced the performing arts and provided us with many opportunities to showcase our art to the city. For DSA in particular, due to the nature of our site-specific performances, we work closely with local businesses to utilize their spaces. In Flagstaff, aerial dance is a “newer” style of dance, and we have been able to open the minds of Flagstaffians and our community to new possibilities on the floor and in the air.

Darl Sky Aerial 1

Photo by Gean Shanks

What are the drawbacks? 

In Flagstaff, the main drawbacks are a lack of rehearsal spaces and limited studio space. Although we do have a performing arts center, it is not ideal for aerial dance nor is it ideal for floor dance performances. We have had to become very creative with the way that we utilize our performance spaces. We have used historic hotels, airplane hangers and other random warehouses for performance space. Our goal in the next several years is to fund the creation of a community performing arts center that would better meet the needs of our company and the community.

What do you perceive your influence has been on the community where you live?

As mentioned before, aerial dance is a newer artform to Flagstaff. We have been able to expand our audience’s minds of what is physically capable as well as tap in deeply to their emotions. Our goal for DSA is for our audience to take a moment from the busy world and tap into our emotions as humans, to take our masks off and give ourselves permission to feel. We have had may positive responses from our community of how they have been moved and inspired to create and become an active participant in the arts.

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To learn more, visit www.darkskyaerial.com.

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