Pulling this production of The Amelia Project together sometimes feels like it’s as impressive a feat as flying a plane was back when aviation first existed. There are so many small details that, even if attended to properly, could make the whole thing crash. That’s true for all productions in administrative terms, but when you add one single-point trapeze shared by six performers into the mix, the possibilities of a completely fixed production fly out the window. Julie incorporates the unpredictable nature of the art form into her work with instincts that really do remind me of an old time aviator, and we dancers have to be able to follow suite. We prepare for this through training of course, but also with a lot of research.
The facts we find permeate the production in every way. Julie choreographed the floor dancing in the same rhythm as was made by the engine in Amelia Earhart’s plane. Our costumes were designed off of archival photographs of Amelia’s own wardrobe. We have our own little library of aviation books circulating amongst us, and we all seem to agree on Beryl Markham’s West with the Night as the most inspiring account. (Beryl was an African bush pilot in the 1930s and she’s very amazing—you should read her book.)
The physical research connects us to the early aviators in two ways. One is through simulation—or, I guess you could call it acting. We take all of our understanding of the risks and thrills and challenges and mechanics of early aviation and we put it into specific intentions and motivations that cause the dance to unfold the way it does. During an earlier phase of rehearsing, we would impulsively narrate our way through the choreography. I never guessed I’d cultivate skills that transform me from a tangled mess of twisted metal into the propeller as it tilts down into a nose dive into the pilot about to bail as her plane goes down into the mechanic, waiting down there on the ground to see if the plane survives the tests it’s never taken on ever before. Actors usually play separated roles in productions, and they usually stick to one role per play. We play separate people too, but we are all constantly shape-shifting. We experience flight as the people, the planes, the elements.
The other way we connect is through recreation—we fly in our way for the same reasons those early aviators flew in their way. When we come in to take flight, no amount of training and practice is going to guarantee the trapeze will do what we expect. There is an improvisational aspect that is simply us, dealing with the reality of the elements within which we move. I think we all feel a kinship with the early aviators in that sense. One of the biggest rewards is the thrill of having nothing to keep you safely intact save for your own reflexes. To have the world reduce down to you, your machine, and the air. Of course, our machine is a trapeze and so we only experience this reduction for mere seconds at a time. Amelia and Beryl felt it for hours and hours…..