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Cycropia is one of a handful of aerial dance troupes within the United States. Using low-flying trapezes, trapeze hoops, hand loops, aerial fabric, a Spanish web and other aerial apparatus, we combine modern dance, athleticism and the magic of defying gravity. Cycropia has developed quite a large following, having earned a reputation for spreading wonder and delight wherever we go.

We are as devoted to our community as they are to us since we take our mission of community building seriously. Over the years we have completed several Artist-in-Residencies in Madison, lecture demonstrations at elementary and high schools and we offer ongoing workshops for adults and children. We strive to offer at least one annual free show, hanging our trapezes from majestic oak trees in Wisconsin's parks.

Aerial dance was invented by Terry Sendgraff in Oakland, California. The initial spark for Cycropia came in 1989, when the University of Wisconsin's German Department invited aerial dance pioneer Robert Davidson to perform Airborne: Meister Eckhart at Madison's Mitchell Theater. Through aerial dance, song and drama, Davidson told the story of the 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart. As he performed throughout the United States, Davidson included local performers in his production.

 

Members of Cycropia's first crew
Members of Cycropia's first crew

 

Originally, Renée Miller auditioned as a singer, but soon found herself dancing through the air. Miller invited her friends, Pamela Maye and Eric Rupert to see the show. Along with Kevin Mullaney, these three friends brought Davidson back to teach a workshop and founded Cycropia Aerial Dance Conspiracy. Cycropia's first performance, a fund-raiser called Beg and Breakfast, was a treat for the eye and the taste buds. Dancers showcased both their new-found skills on the trapeze and their culinary talents. With the money raised at the Beg and Breakfast the troupe sent Maye and Rupert to Seattle for Joan Skinner and Robert Davidson's Skinner Releasing and Flying workshop. Since that time many of our members have made the pilgrimage to Seattle for this annual workshop.

 

Rehearsing for Flights of Fancy beneath the arching beams of Turner Hall
Rehearsing for Flights of Fancy beneath the arching beams of Turner Hall

 

The new flyers found a comfortable nest in the old Turner Hall on Butler Street, just blocks from the State Capitol in downtown Madison. Swinging from Turner Hall's curved wooden beams, they staged their first production, Hanging by a Thread, in 1991.

 

Pamela Maye
Pamela Maye

 

Dancer and choreographer Pamela Maye, brought power, creative inspiration and poetry to the collective. Pamela's tragic death in an automobile accident in October of that same year almost brought Cycropia to an end; but with time and healing, a new incarnation of Cycropia began.

Cycropia has had a hard time maintaining a technical staff—though not through any fault of its own. Drawn by the power of flight, lighting board and sound, technicians tend to slip out of their supportive roles and are soon seen dancing with the troupe. Kenneth Loud, Patrick Crean and Robert Summerbell, all members of the technical crew of Hanging by a Thread, soon became key dancers and members of the collective. By 1993, Cycropia was back in full swing. Its second full-scale production, Flights of Fancy, took to the air under the artistic direction of Gretchen Renner.

 

Gretchen Renner
Gretchen Renner

 

Cycropia prospered and grew, teaching classes and staging Dreams of Flying in 1994, Caution in 1995 and Nocturne in 1996. Cycropia branched out literally, bringing the magic of human flight into natural surroundings with Trapeze in the Treez at Madison's Orton and Olin Parks in 1995 and Nocturne Taliesen at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen in Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1996.

 

Sign: "EFFECTIVELY IMMEDIATELY, THE TURNER HALL BUILDING IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PUBLIC USE"

 

Later in 1996, Cycropia suffered another major loss in when Turner Hall was torn down. We became Madison's homeless dance company, wistfully hanging our trapezes in garages, barns and trees in search of a new home.

In 1997 the troupe began to rent space at The Lighthouse Theater. Cycropia has been blessed with many multi-talented members including professional carpenters. During the construction and renovation of The Lighthouse, they helped erect a fire wall, designed, constructed and finished a sprung wood floor and supervised other members who swarmed in to help build and paint bleachers, carry sheet rock and hang the curtains and lighting equipment Cycropia lent to the new theater.

 

Angela Richardson and Julia Weldon at the South Madison Neighborhood Center
Angela Richardson and Julia Weldon at the South Madison Neighborhood Center

 

Also in 1997, David Smith, director of the South Madison Neighborhood Center, now the Dane County Boys and Girls Club, offered us the use of their gym during off peak hours. Our deepest gratitude goes out to David Smith and current director, Juan Jose Lopez, for this rehearsal space. At the Neighborhood Center, we have taught classes for community children, performed free shows and made donations toward center renovations. We have continued to use the gym for rehearsals up to the present day.

 

Patrick Crean and Rebecca Bock performing United by a Dream by Kenneth Loud at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen. Photo: Andy Kraushaar
Patrick Crean and Rebecca Bock performing United by a Dream by Kenneth Loud at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen. Photo: Andy Kraushaar

 

Our partial homelessness in 1997 had made it impossible to produce a full-length show, but in 1998, under the artistic direction of Renee Miller and with generous support from Wisconsin's Sesquicentennial Fund, Cycropia was able to launch it's first Wisconsin tour, Aerial Chautauqua. The season opened at The Lighthouse Theater and the show traveled to Madison's Orton Park, Milwaukee's Lake Park and closed at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen in Spring Green.

Unfortunately, soon after Aerial Chautauqua, the hourly rate at the Lighthouse Theater rose and we were no longer able to afford to rehearse, teach and perform in that space. So 1999 was another year of transition, regrouping, and smaller performances.

In 1999, the artistic director of Frequent Flyers Productions, Nancy Smith founded the Aerial Dance Festival in Boulder, Colorado. Yearly, the festival brings together aerial dancers from across the United States and around the world. Cycropia members have car-pooled to Colorado for the festival since its inception.

 

Swinging at the State Street Center
Swinging at the State Street Center

 

In 2000 and 2001 we were able to find additional space to teach and rehearse in the third floor dance studio at the State Street Center, and Bob Queen, director of the Orton Park festival, invited us to perform. Cycropia produced Potluck in the Park in 2000 and Lift in 2001 for the Orton Park Festival under the artistic direction of Jennifer Ruef. The troupe rounded out the year with a New Year's Eve performance at the Coronado Theatre in Rockford.

 

See our calendar for upcoming events!

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