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Pendulum Aerial Arts shares the tales of a generation

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Rosie Rogmans (front) and Taylor Hill (back) perform a synchronized aerial routine on the trapeze.In 2008, Suzanne Kenney noticed her teenaged son’s heavy reliance on technology. She saw its impact on his social life and how he spent his free time. She thought about global warming and about the issues her son’s generation would be facing. But how would they face them?

With Tanya Burka, she set out to create a show that would examine these issues and bring them to light with performers who actively face them. In its second rendition, “Dawn: A New Beginning” comes to The French American International School with some new choreography and all new artists to showcase issues facing today’s youth.

The show features 14 boys and girls between ages 10 and 17, who either contort, fly through the air or both throughout the show’s two acts. Often, they’re contorting and flying at the same time.by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Liza Myachina (top) and Taylor Hill (below) perform a synchronized aerial routine with silks.

When Kenney founded Pendulum Aerial Arts in 2000, she wanted to create a community of artists. A place where contortionists, aerialists, dancers and gymnasts could come to learn and be a part of something. With the youth program, she wanted kids to participate and feel at home, even if they were learning the art of circus from scratch.

Now in its 14th season, Pendulum’s mission remains the same.

“My goal was that I really wanted to start a program for middle school girls because it was a very difficult time in my life,” said Kenney. “The young women, they inspire me every day. They’re incredible, these kids. Given the opportunity, kids can do so much.”

And watching “Dawn,” it’s easy to forget that these are actually kids performing. Their strength is astounding, and the hours they’ve put in are obvious. For professional trainers such as Taylor Hill, 17, and Rosie Rogmans, 14, two of the show’s main performers, at least 20 hours a week are logged at Pendulum — it’s what’s necessary to reach their caliber of performance.

“It’s not a recreational activity,” said Kenney. “You can’t come in one day a week and really get anywhere with this.”

Once time is limited like that, she says, more than anything it just becomes frustrating. To be able to perform aerially, an extreme amount of core strength is required. Imagine swinging beneath a trapeze or hanging by a rope with one arm. How do you get your momentum? Where does the strength come from to lift you up and over? What about balance?

For girls especially, developing this strength can be challenging; some of Kenney’s girls have spent as many as three years trying to do a full chin up. Because of the necessary strength, it’s always helpful when kids come in with some kind of dance or gymnastics background, though it’s not required.

“It helps, because they have great body awareness already,” said Kenney. “But a lot of my students who are now world class artists, they started in middle school with no dance, no gymnastics, no specific type of training, and they go so far.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Suzanne Kenney, Pendulum Aerial Arts' artistic director, provides direction during a run through of the group's show 'Dawn: A New Beginning.'

Breaking the mold

When Libby Mikoleit, 17, found Pendulum three years ago, she moved 3,000 miles across the country to be a part of it. Upon her arrival, she couldn’t do a pull up or a push up and slid to the floor the first time she tried to climb up the fabric. Her ballet background didn’t help at all with upper body strength, as it was almost entirely focused on leg work. Being a ballerina also didn’t help her self image.

“In ballet, you have to have the ‘ballerina body.’ You have to look a certain way, or you’re not going to get hired,” Mikoleit said. “With circus, you don’t have an image to fit. You come in as you are and find your strengths and weaknesses and work from there. No one tells you that you’re wrong for what you want to do.”

A junior company member, Mikoleit has a solo performance in “Dawn.” She also made the performers’ costumes by hand, created the videos that play in between each movement, coaches and is a senior at Sunset High School. Her life outside of Pendulum has become obsolete, but it’s nothing she worries about.

“The friends I’ve made through Pendulum have been the best people I’ve ever met,” she said.by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Rosie Rogmans performs an aerial routine on ropes.

Watching the kids interact during a rehearsal, their camaraderie is clear. Everyone helps everyone here. Advice is given without stipulation, and praise flows freely. Aerial arts require a lot of trust, which means friendships form quickly. If you’re flying through the air and a partner is supposed to catch you, you need to believe that’s what will happen.

“You can’t be afraid,” said Kenney. “You have to have respect for what you do, but if you are working from fear, then that’s really not good.”

In “Dawn,” the artists perform in the air with fabric, trapeze and rope, and do ground work to tell the story of a generation that knows it’s consumed by technology, but isn’t concerned with the eventual outcome. Kenney and the other coaches put a strong emphasis on character work, which resonates through each routine. This, combined with unforgettable choreography and a daring message, turns “Dawn: A New Beginning” into much more than a youth performance. It’s riveting and well-executed while maintaining a level of fun and joy.

“You need to find your voice and tell that story. Your story. And then nobody can take that away from you,” said Kenney.

Through “Dawn,” that’s what each of the young performers achieves.by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Rosie Rogmans (foreground), Mia Baudey (back left), Taylor Hill (back right), and Annika Irrgang (back far right) run through a routine.

Catch the show

See “Dawn: A New Beginning” on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at The French American International School, 8500 N.W. Johnson St. Admission for adults is $15; youth and seniors $10; and free for children ages 5 and younger. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit pendulumaerialarts.org.

by: SUBMITTED ART - 'Dawn'

Cirque du Soleil performer finds creative outlet with Pendulum

Rebecca Sukhanova started with Pendulum in December 2013 after nine years performing with Cirque du Soleil.

When she and her husband decided to move to Oregon, she asked around to see if any companies in the area wanted her assistance, and Pendulum happily took her on.

“It’s nice to come here, because I have my own little creative outlet,” said Sukhanova.

She’s discovered that when it comes to coaching, her strengths lie in the creative and artistic elements of a performance. So, Sukhanova helped create much of the show’s new choreography and works with both the kids and adults in the company on their character development.

Now that she’s done performing, Sukhanova is happy to be on the other side of things and to spend more time with her husband and baby son.

“It’s amazing to be in front of all those people, but there’s a lot of sacrifice that comes with that,” she said.

When asked if she plans on participating in future productions, Sukhanova laughed. “No, no. I think a decade is long enough.”

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