Aerial trapeze

Take a seat in the audience for aerial show Animalia, then enroll in a class at the Skybox to experience your own flight of fancy.

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  • See it: Animalia

  • See it; Photograph by Colleen Cox

  • See it; Photograph by J Craig Thompkins

  • See it; Photograph by Leif Zurmuhlen

  • See it; Photograph by Richard Lovrich

  • Photograph by Richard Lovrich

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

  • Learn It; Photograph by Stephen Kosloff

See it: Animalia

SEE IT
On Saturday 20, experimental aerial show Animalia: Stories of Collapse, Calamity and Departure will debut at multipurpose art space and performance lab The Skybox at the House of Yes (342 Maujer St between Morgan Ave and Waterbury St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; theskybox.org; 9pm, $10--$15). The 50-minute theatrical piece is a surreal fable, chronicling the story of a woman's transformation into a deer. (Yes, you'll see ladies wearing antler headgear.) Conceived two years ago by installation and performance artist C. Ryder Cooley, Animalia's narrative is told through song, film projections and live music, including the singing saw. But for the most part, it's about the midair acrobatics. Cooley, a "self-taught folk aerialist," often works with site-specific, unconventional locations like bridges, trees, boats and bell towers. Here, she toys with a heart-stopping series of "quirky and moody" aerials.

LEARN IT
Sexy aerial artistes, midlevel trapeze enthusiasts clad in psychedelic-print unitards and utterly bewildered newbies are all welcome to enroll in classes at the Skybox ($25--$30 an hour for classes; visit theskybox.org/calendar for a schedule or to book a lesson). Despite the 30-foot-high ceilings, the place has an unpretentious, makeshift charm. Multicolor fabrics adorn the walls, and props from the previous night's absurdist-theater performance are strewn about.

My first lesson is in silks: Two long fabrics suspended from the ceiling, which skilled acrobats manipulate to contort themselves into various poses. Jordann Baker, a member of aerial theater troupe Lady Circus, is the instructor for the majority of the classes at the Skybox. She's patient as she teaches me "up, tuck and over." This requires hanging in between the fabrics, curling into a ball with my hips facing upward and suspending myself upside down, feet pointed at the sky. As my spotter, Baker does most of the grunt work holding me up. But when she tells me that I'm balancing entirely on my own, I'm exhilarated.

Later that afternoon, I find myself swinging from the trapeze, which instructor Scott Combs assures me "is addictive." Combs cajoles me into attempting tricks like the Angel and the Gazelle. Both moves are performed in Animalia and look phenomenal, but the physics behind them are confounding—at several points, the only force keeping me from falling off the trapeze is my knee tucked to my chest against the side of the rope. "There isn't a set lexicon for aerial trapeze," Combs explains. "There's room to play. I think it's more interesting that way." I realize the full extent of these words the next morning, when I awake with calluses on my hands and rope burn on my feet. Despite feeling as if I'd had the shit kicked out of me, Combs was right: I'm hooked.

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