A ‘Haven’ for Aerialists

Artist Tamika Rivera x Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial Dance at SBCAST

Artist Tamika Rivera (left) and S.B. Centre for Aerial Dance’s Ninette Paloma sit in a pile of yarn below an aerial silk, both main ingredients in <em>Haven</em>.

Paul Wellman

Artist Tamika Rivera (left) and S.B. Centre for Aerial Dance’s Ninette Paloma sit in a pile of yarn below an aerial silk, both main ingredients in Haven.

Certain conventions in art, such as the distinctions between the studio and the stage, or the performers and the audience, are so thoroughly internalized that they seem almost invisible — until someone comes along and tosses them out. When Haven: Weaving Spaces of Refuge and Significance touches down on Thursday, March 7, at SBCAST, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Deeply entrenched patterns of behavior and accompanying structures of feeling in dance performance will simmer, oscillate, blur, and possibly even explode as Ninette Paloma’s squad of dancers from the Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial occupy a space created by Tamika Rivera especially for them by covering their beloved aerial apparatus in colorful wraps of fabric and yarn. Paloma and Rivera have been quietly nurturing this organized subversion over several years and across multiple continents. Now their innovative project is ready to be born.

From one angle, the idea behind Haven is a simple one. Rivera wraps things in brightly colored yarns and fabrics; Paloma’s ever-evolving community of aerial dancers performs on a variety of platforms, from trapezes and suspended hoops to silks and corde lisse. For Haven, Rivera will wrap the aerial apparatus, both the moving parts and the structures that support them, to create an aerial sanctuary. Inside this sacralized space, the performers will interact with the fiber surfaces coating their familiar tools while cocooned in a giant fabric hive. Spectators at the event may observe their flights, but only performers will be allowed inside the Haven.

Talking with the two artists at the S.B. Centre for Aerial Dance studio last week, it quickly became clear that this seemingly simple act of wrapping the equipment was only the beginning of a wide-ranging and profound re-imagination of the conventions of staged performance. Rivera and Paloma share a remarkable gift for systematic thinking about the role of art in an era of rapid social change, and Haven manifests several of their best and strongest innovations. The bonds between performers and their teachers and between performers and one another in the field of aerial dance are not what one finds in more established traditions of dance study. As Paloma told me, “Aerial dance is a matriarchy — believe me, I know most of the teachers not just in this country, but all over the world, and they are pretty much all women.” Likewise, weaving skills and fiber art has long been associated with the alternative structures of power and lineages of genealogy maintained among women. Combining these two forms — fibers woven in and around objects in the world, and dancing bodies woven through fabrics and cords in the air — doubles down on the subtly subversive strategies that have allowed women and other marginalized groups to assert their claims on life in surprising ways for centuries.

The artists frame the project as an explicit response to what they have termed a “conveyor belt of jolting news regarding the political and humanitarian state of global affairs,” but the Haven is no “safe space” for sheltering fragile snowflakes. It is rather an intense expression of the radical desire to bring something new into the world on a spiritual level and to grant that sense of freedom to performers who have achieved a state of consciousness that has rendered them ready to accept and cherish it. The verb that these women use to describe what they intend with Haven is “to activate,” meaning the impact of the choreography and of the structure within which it will take place. The physical sensations the performers experience in contact with the wrapped equipment and in their existential duets with gravity send powerful impulses through them and out into the world.

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Haven takes place Thursday, March 7, 6-8 p.m. at SBCAST, 513 Garden Street. The event is free and open to the public.