A selection of photos from the performers featured at the upcoming Dark Sky Aerial and Aerial Dance Marin benefit for the Sonoma County Resilience Fund on Nov. 18, 2017. Courtesy images.


From the array of live music at the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival to the Curtain Theatre’s annual Shakespeare productions, Old Mill Park’s amphitheatre has been home to spectacular performances for years.

But it’s likely never hosted an event like the one set for Saturday, November 18.

That’s the day that Aerial Dance Marin and Dark Sky Aerial descend – literally, in many cases – onto the amphitheatre for a multi-faceted performance that’s centered around aerial dance, a medium that uses an apparatus allowing performers to dance both vertically and horizontally, weaving together the soaring acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil with the storytelling of modern dance.

At the Nov. 18th event, a 21-foot aerial tripod will be set up on the amphitheater stage, allowing dancers to deploy an aerial fabric rope and a lyra, a metal circular hoop that the dancers can manipulate and get inside of, says Dark Sky Aerial co-founder Carrie Gaydos says, who recently relocated to Mill Valley from Flagstaff, Arizona.

Like many Bay Area arts organizations over the past several weeks, organizers have created the event specifically with North Bay fire victims in mind. All donations given at the event will go directly to the Community Foundation Sonoma County’s Sonoma County Resilience Fund, which is focused on the “mid- to long-term needs of those impacted by these devastating fires.”Gaydos says they’ve chosen the Sonoma County Resilience Fund because of that long-term focus. “We know there will be significant and long-term needs for our fellow community members to rebuild their lives, long after media attention has shifted away from our community,” according the foundation’s website.

The event also serves as a kick-off of sorts for the Dark Sky Aerial experience in Marin, as Gaydos is looking to connect with an array of like-minded organizations for similar events. Dark Sky Aerial, co-founded in 2015 by six women, is an “aerial theatre and performing arts nonprofit organization” that offers workshops and creates “site-specific, repertory work throughout the Western United States.” The organization draws its moniker from the city where it was founded, as Flagstaff is recognized as a member of the International Dark-Sky Association, which was created to preserve the nighttime environment and the heritage of dark skies through reducing light pollution.

For the Nov. 18 event, Gaydos is teaming up with Sheila Bannon, who opened Aerial Dance Marin in San Rafael in 2014 to provide “safety-first aerial education to explore the technique and expressive potential of aerial dance.” It also includes donated, choreographed, professional performances by Helen Fitanides of Upswing Aerial Dance, performers from Zaccho Center for Dance and Aerial Arts, Layla Tripod and Emma Ross of Aerial Artique, Meredith McMurray of Novato’s Aerial Entertainment of Marin, Madamn Burnz of Sky High Odditorium and the Cerebellum Projekt from Oakland, and more. The free, family friendly event begins with a live music from the Golden Gate String Quartet, which will also provide the soundtrack for the aerial dance performances that follow. It also includes local wine donated by Stubbs Vineyard.

A native of western Massachusetts, Gaydos got into gymnastics at a very young age and eventually expanded on that form to include trampolining and acrobatics. She was drawn to aerial dance “as a medium that helps you tell a story,” she says.

Aerial dance, which requires a powerful core and is not for the faint of heart, has grown considerably in recent years, according to International Aerial Dance Festival founder Nancy Smith. The medium now utilizes an array of devices that serve as its fulcrum. Most commonly used are aerial silks, which dancers twist around their limbs and bodies, as well as lyra, the aforementioned hoops that will be used at the Old Mill Park event. Other performers use “a loop of aerial silk called a sling; the cyr wheel, a rolling hoop that spans nearly six feet in diameter; or a vertical rope known as a corde lisse that puts the vine-swinging antics of Tarzan to shame,” Smith told Westword in a recent piece.

“We’re thrilled to be able to showcase aerial dance in such a beautiful setting as Old Mill Park and to do our part to help those impacted by these fires,” Gaydos says.

The 411: Dark Sky Aerial and Aerial Dance Marin host a fundraiser for the Santa Rosa Resilience Fund on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2:30pm-4:30pm at the Old Mill Park Amphitheatre. Free (donations encouraged).

Here are a pair of videos to give you a flavor of aerial dance: