Sky Candy takes flight in reopened Stateside at the Paramount Theatre
Recently re-imagined venue set to host one of the longest runs by a locally produced theater group on its stage, beginning this weekend.
Two fully grown men hang from the ceiling, upside down, pointing their legs and torsos to the rafters, their bodies curled around two huge red curtains, no wires required.
This weekend they’ll be hanging upside down on stage at Stateside at the Paramount Theatre, as two of the leads in an ambitious new undertaking by the Austin aerial dance company Sky Candy. But at the moment, they’re in the midst of rehearsal, and the color is draining from their legs while they wait for a music cue to be sorted out.
This show, “Land Without Evil,” is a big step forward for Sky Candy. Six times the budget of their first production, with a cast of 30, a crew of 20, as well as 50 collaborators, the show also contains video “mapping,” American Sign Language and live vocals by Austin act Sorne.
Not to mention that there are airborne dancers.
It’s something of a first for the recently re-imagined Stateside, too. With the venue coming back online in the past few years after a 2006 flood, Sky Candy’s show is one of the longest runs by a locally produced theater group.
In rehearsal, it’s obvious that the show’s co-directors, Chelsea Lauman and Agent Red (Sarah Johnston), have their hands full.
8 p.m. Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m. Sunday, plus additional performances through Dec. 16.
Stateside at the Paramount Theatre, 719 N. Congress Ave.
474-1221, www. austintheatre.org.
This is an eclectic room, with slim, powerful bodies that would make the most serious yogis take notice. There are a lot of feathers in hair. Baggy pants and very short shorts. Animal and insect tattoos confront each other on arms and legs. Among the twentyand thirtysomethings, there are circus performers, award-winning pole dancers, a fourth grade boy, and, Johnston tells me, “a channel, who speaks in tongues.”
“Marmalade!” Johnston calls out softly, using her codeword to bring order to Sky Candy’s bustling East Austin studio.
Her first order of business, as all 30 cast members convene in a wide circle on the ground, is a “positivity-only rule.”
“Negativity is contagious,” she tells the dancers. It’s 10 days till curtain, and the atmosphere is charged with excitement, but also a tinge of tension.
The meeting covers a lot of ground: mental preparedness, physical safety, whether they can fill the seats of the twoweekend run at the Stateside Theater. Before they break, Johnston and a helper announce a health conscious treat. “It’s almond milk with maca and cardamon,” they’re told. “Maca is a root.”
“Some people say it’s an aphrodisiac,” Johnston says mischievously. The cast laughs, the tension subsided.
Johnston knows some- thing about big aerial productions like this one. “It’s like being chased by a tiger — you can’t turn around and look, because it will eat you!”
In a sense, that tiger caught up with Johnston a few years ago during an aerial dance performance in San Francisco, where, as she puts it, “I fell in front of 6,000 people and broke both my arms.”
That brutal event meant her stage career was indefinitely on hold. But it’s also what drove her to what she calls South American spiritual practices, and to the novel, “Land Without Evil,” which follows the struggle between the indigenous spirituality of the Guarani people and the words of the new missionaries.
Johnston and Lauden were inspired to adapt the novel for the multimedia stage show.
The story, the directors say, has been slightly altered, cut to fit into 75 minutes, and it no longer represents the Guarani. It tells what Johnston calls a “pan-cultural” story. Its archetypal hero and his people no longer come from a specific place. The show has acquired cultural jewelry and artifacts accordingly, from all over the world: Ghana, Afghanistan and Panama, just to name a few.
The video mapping, by Austin’s Joao Beira (whose stage name is Datagrama; everyone here seems to have a nickname), plays a major role. The stage will be backed by an expansive “mapping surface,” 26 feet across. When the visuals are not actually creating the background like, say, a temple, the visuals move almost constantly, some even responding to the dancers’ movements.
As the rehearsal continues, we get a hint of the possibilities that a narrative-driven play and aerial dancers can provide. Nathan Brumbaugh (who goes by “Nay Nay”), plays the lead, the son of the shaman. When his character is charged with climbing a tree to retrieve a bird’s feather, he pulls up smoothly onto a hoop that is occupied by Lauman, the “bird.”
And the pair proceeds to tumble around each other, contorting over each other, dancing in mid-air. A few kinks present themselves, but already it’s beautiful — the body electric, and airborne. Brumbaugh plucks the feather and returns gracefully to the ground.
TOP: Costumes are prepped and fitted at Sky Candy. LEFT: Chelsea Lauman, codirector and performer and Nathan Brumbaugh, below, rehearse a scene from “Land Without Evil” at Sky Candy studio.