Aerial bungee featured in dance company show

Aerial bungee dance techniques were showcased for the first time on the Keller Stage in Lenfest


Davis Straske, ’19, rehearses her bungee dance. Photo courtesy of Jenefer Davies.

Laura Calhoun

The university’s repertory dance company performance showcased aerial dance in the Keller Theater for the first time during its show last weekend.

 The concept for the piece was developed by Davis Straske, ’19, during an independent study course. Straske, who has been dancing since she was four years old, wanted to reframe a typical tango with one dancer rigged to a bungee while the other is untethered.

Straske said she was inspired to work on the piece after taking an aerial dance class while studying abroad last spring term in London. She continued her study of aerial dance with a fall term course last semester at Washington and Lee.

“I decided to do bungee because it was something I physically enjoyed,” Straske said. “I knew I could be challenged and work to create something for the performance.”

 Spencer Alascio,’19, the untethered dancer in the aerial piece, said that it has taken perseverance to incorporate aerial dance into the show.

 “There were a lot of different dance rehearsals where we would get there, hook [Straske] in, and we would find what worked, what really didn’t work, and the in-between stuff, which is how the actual piece came together,” Alascio said.

Straske said that the most challenging part of working with a bungee system is the strain that comes from wearing the harness. Despite the physical challenges, she said this type of dance is especially freeing.

“It feels like I have my own trampoline, really,” Straske said. “Any movement I take, I can bounce or throw myself with extra force.”

 Alascio calls the dance a “double duet.” While he and Straske are visibly dancing together onstage, Jenefer Davies, artistic director of the W&L repertory dance company, and Straske are also dancing together. Davies climbs up and down a 20-foot truss, similar to monkey bars, according to Alascio, that controls the elasticity of the bungee, which allows Straske to move up and down during the dance.

“It could’ve been called “three duets,” because I also have to talk with [Davies] about whether to give me more weight or less weight,” Alascio said.

 The 20-foot truss that Davies uses to raise and lower Straske was built by professional aerial riggers with the help of Tom Hackman, technical director of the theater department, and Shawn Paul Evans, theater department head and associate professor of theater. This new installation will help broaden the aerial program at W&L.

 Alascio, who began his dance career when he started with the dance company his sophomore year, said this is the most fun he’s had during his time as a dancer.

 “For me, this is a novel and fun thing that I’ve never really done before,” Alascio said. “It’s four-and-a-half minutes of fun every single time we run it.”

 Besides the aerial dance performance, the show presented five other dances, choreographed by Washington and Lee students and three nationally renowned choreographers who spent time on campus throughout winter term. Taylor Mitchell, Jessica Tomlinson and Shaun Boyle D’Arcy each spent four days on campus teaching master classes and intensive rehearsals with students in the dance company.

 Jenefer Davies said that working with these choreographers elevated both the show and educational opportunities for students to a new level.

 “Bringing together guest artists, faculty and students creates a beautiful synergy,” Davies said. “A palpable force of teaching and learning is created through the artistic process.”

One of Davies own pieces, “Blame Game,” was restaged in the show. She said she first choreographed the piece in 2006, describing it as a frenzied piece that looks at love and loss from the vantage points of both strength and sorrow. Davies said it encourages people to look on the bright side with humor and a bit of fun.

 Alascio said he is inspired by how much hard work is put into the show by everyone involved. Though his dance career began when he started with the dance company, many of the other dancers have been dancing for their entire lives. 

The dance company performed three times last weekend, March 29-31.