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Pendulum soars into springtime

Aerial arts dance company tempts audiences with acrobatic performances
by: Christopher Onstott Pendulum Aerial Arts' Goy Suvan practices a group "Cell Block Tango" piece to debut in the spring show, "Up, Up and Away!" at The French American International School.

Pendulum Aerial Arts is poised to dazzle audiences this spring with its theatrical acrobatics in two special performances.

The nonprofit's education program will open its doors at The French American International School to the community Sunday for a fun-filled afternoon of games and activities for all ages.

Doors open at noon for Pendulum's Student Showcase featuring 35 young performers tumbling across the floor, riding unicycles, dancing and flying through the air on silks and trapeze. The audience will then be invited to take photos with costumed artists in an interactive photo booth, learn basic juggling and hoop tricks, sample healthy snacks and win prizes.

The following weekend, members of Pendulum's professional dance company, which is known for its stunning visuals and technical virtuosity, will then welcome its 13th season with 'Up, Up and Away.' This stunning presentation of aerial artistry, dance and acrobatics will soar in the intimate setting of Pendulum's rehearsal space, 8500 N.W. Johnson St., for two evening shows and an afternoon matinee.

'I love having this opportunity to celebrate the talents of these young artists as they graduate from school and move on to new stages in their lives and artistic careers,' said Artistic Director Suzanne Kenney. 'It's really inspiring to see how these artists started in classes with Pendulum and have moved up into full-fledged company members and coaches for the next generations of youth in our recreation program.'

This month's shows offer audiences a glimpse into the colorful, welcoming world Kenney has spent the last 13 years creating at Pendulum Aerial Arts.

'It's an amazing environment I am really proud of,' Kenney said.

'A beautiful gift'

Kenney entered the aerial arts' world 17 years ago, when she was cast as Peaseblossom in Portland Center Stage's 1996 production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' In the show, the fairies were choreographed in the air on trapeze and ropes.

'The first time I did it, the passion was ignited in me,' Kenney recalled. 'I loved the challenge of it, the physicality it demands and its beauty.'

After the show, she teamed up with Mike Barber to purchase the equipment from the theater. The two then took a bold move and started their own company, Aero Betty.

'We were drawn to the artistic discipline of the aerial work,' she said. 'It was a very crazy time. Knowing now what it takes to run a company, we were very naïve in the beginning. But we shared a common artistic aesthetic, the same vision.

'At the time, there were only a couple of aerial artistry companies in the United States.'

The company was fortunate to find space in the West Haven neighborhood at The French American International School in 1999.

The next year, Kenney decided to leave Aero Betty, branch out on her own and found Pendulum Aerial Arts, allowing her to begin offering classes to middle school students.

'I had a difficult time in middle school and wanted to create a positive place for creativity and physical fitness through aerial work,' she said of her then new venture. 'I still can't believe I did it.

'I had a grand plan. I am so fortunate to have the most unique relationship with The French American International School. Without their support and generosity for 13 years, I would not have been able to impact so many young people's lives.'

She believes she was destined to be where she is today.

'I've been sober for 25 years, and this school is my way of giving back - my beautiful gift to the world,' Kenney said as she brushed away tears. 'Kids soar with Pendulum, and they grow up with Pendulum.

'It is so amazing to watch all of these young people come in and find their passion at such an early age. It changes people's lives.'

A growing family

Josie Oleson, a senior at La Salle High School in Milwaukie and Woodstock resident, first enrolled in Pendulum's recreational classes as a 9-year-old third-grader.

Already with more than six years of training as a Scottish Highland dancer, Oleson remembers the wonder of aerial work that delighted and tempted her to take classes.

'It was different from any regular sport offered in school,' the 18-year-old said. 'It was something I felt was more attainable and something I could work on over time.

'All my strength was in my legs. It took a while to build my upper body strength.'

Oleson has indeed grown up with Pendulum and serves as a coach for younger students in the recreation program and as a valued company performer.

For this weekend's show she choreographers a hammock piece featuring two pairs of students.

'It feels like a family that keeps getting bigger,' she said of being one of the company's leaders and a mentor to budding artists. 'It's our responsibility to keep it going. It's incredible, heartwarming and super satisfying when something finally clicks in their mind and they are able to do something they were have trouble with.'

Oleson plans to study nutrition and exercise science at Oregon State University in the fall, making her performances in 'Up, Up and Away' her last.

'It's sad to think about,' she said.

Kenney agreed.

'It is a bitter-sweet show,' Kenney added. 'We will be saying goodbye to some of our coaches who are either graduating from high school or college and moving on to the next chapter of their lives.

'They are all creative and really instrumental in the aesthetics of the company.'

Audiences are in for a treat, Kenney said.

'I am excited for the show. It captures the technicality, the artistic expression, the theatrics while we tell a story,' she said.

The production highlights individual aerial and ground-based work of many of Pendulum's longtime performers. It also marks Kenney's return to the silks following an injury with the premiere of signature pieces.

'We will transport you to a beautiful place and leave you feeling good,' Kenney promised.

Pendulum Aerial Arts presents

• Community Day and Student Showcase, Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. at The French American International School, 8500 N.W. Johnson St., general admission is $10 and children 5 and younger are free.

• Up, Up and Away! Friday, April 20, and Saturday, April 21, at the school. Doors open at 7 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. show both days. A Sunday, April 22, matinee is set for 2 p.m. with doors opening at 1:30 p.m. General admission is adults, $15; youth and seniors, $10; and free to children 5 and younger.

For more information and tickets, visit pendulumaerialarts.org.