Thieves of Flight soar at the Fringe Festival.

Why did Daedalus and Icarus strap wings to themselves? Why did Leonardo Da Vinci sketch bat-like wings and fantastical flying machines? Why did the Wright brothers construct a plane? Why do many people like to fly in dreams? Gravity has locked people to the earth, but for a select few, the chance to escape the physics for a few minutes is a rare treat. Just ask the women who are part of Voler-Thieves of Flight. The team are aerialists and in demand.

As one of the biggest draws for the Kansas City Fringe Festival, Voler will present “Tordu Vol: A Twisted Tale of Flight.” The performance is described as an interaction of light, illumination, video, aerial dance and floor performance. “This production is an experiment in the delicate balance of the emotional and physical body, guided by an errant structure of electronic music, lighting effects, and video projection. … a full spectrum of emotion and sensations; from sensuality to whimsy, seduction to laughter and joy.”

All five women see themselves as dancers and aerialists. Several of them teach movement and fitness. Others describe themselves as teachers. Perhaps all five are teachers as they demonstrate through their high-flying actions. Rachel McMeachin subscribes to the notion that Peter Pan is right: “I can zoom around, way up off the ground …” “It is the spark of childhood. I loved whirligigs as a child and the Flying Dutchman ride at Worlds of Fun. How many kids want to fly? I get to fulfill that dream. For a short time, we are not bound by the laws of gravity.”

Nichole Raab teaches dance and has performed all over the metropolitan community. She studied dance at UMKC while receiving a B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry. “I am happiest when I am dancing, whether on the ground or in the art. I try to keep moving. Being an aerialist is a different type of dance. It’s another medium for my art.”

Hayley Cherveny is another lifelong dancer. She teaches fitness and dance. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in dance and psychology from Kansas State University. During her college training she specialized in modern dance. “Our aerial performances are an expression of the human body, showing both art and physicality. It really is where play and work meet.”

McMeachin says the work is extensive. In the beginning, the women practiced three nights a week. Now they rehearse once a week for about three hours. “We are artists, athletes and entertainers,” Cherveny says. Jade Osborne, a performance artist, says the three labels change depending on the performance. The women have been ambient background entertainment at banquets and corporate events. Sometimes they are part of a larger show and at other times, they get to lead an act.

No matter what the scenario, the women still have some anxieties about performing. “Sure we worry if we will execute everything accurately. There is a physical fear,” Cherveny says. “It’s really important that if we have a high space to rehearse enough for that particular space.”

The women first met for an aerial class in October 2007. Aerial silks classes start at the beginner level and move to advanced. McMeachin says there is a class for every level. In June 2008, they put on their first show at The Foundation in the West Bottoms. This year marks their third with the Fringe Festival. “We get to stage a full show. It has become our creative outlet. We move from the concept to the execution,” McMeachin says. “The audiences for the Fringe Festival are there to see the show. We love their energy. It blends with ours and keeps the spirit high in the room.” Cherveny says the Fringe Festival performances allow the team to find their art more than just entertaining. “We get to decide exactly what we do,” she says.

All the troupe members are trained on aerial silks. Some of the women specialize on certain pieces of equipment. There are bungees, hammock, body balancing, acrobatics and shapes like a circle and diamond that the women use in a sort of trapeze-like fashion. Raab uses the diamond and Osborne spends time on the bungees. “We like to do what feels good to our bodies,” Cherveny says. McMeachin says each woman is built differently and each has different abilities. “We play to the different strengths,” she says.

As the women progress in their abilities, the challenge becomes keeping the show fresh for themselves and their fans. “We are always trying to reinvent, especially with the silks. We want unique pieces to keep both us and the audience engaged,” Cherveny says.

The theatrics don’t end with just the show’s components. The women also take on “roles.” The five describe themselves and each other. Cherveny says Raab is the more artistic and Davis is the dramatic one. She says McMeachin is the facilitator and Osborne is the playful performer and strict business planner.

Raab says Davis is the team’s powerhouse. “She saves that energy for the performance. She’s the daredevil. She likes the highest spaces.” Davis has trained and performed as a dancer since her youth. She attended the University of Southern Mississippi as a dance performance and choreography major. She has also performed as an aerialist with Quixotic Fusion Performance Ensemble.

Davis says the bigger the space and the higher the ceilings, the bigger the drops. “That means the bigger gasps and applause from the audience,” she says. McMeachin says she is actually fearful of heights. “Leslie has built up her comfort level, though as she practices in high spaces,” Cherveny says.

The women of Voler-Thieves of Flight consider each other family. “We are part of a group of trailblazers,” McMeachin says. “It is about self-expression.” Cherveny says there is not only the internal collaboration, but collaboration with other groups. “Everything we do inspires us. Not many people do this. We create something new in life.”

The troupe will also participate in the Lawrence Busker Festival. Davis says the group now has outdoor rigging. “It’s our desire to take this on the road and if the warmer months allow us to perform outside, all the better,” McMeachin says. “By traveling some, we are finding more audiences to help us in this creative expression.”

Voler-Thieves of Flight Performances

Fringe Central

1730 Broadway

7:30 p.m., July 22

3:30 p.m., July 24

9 p.m., July 28

7:30 p.m., July 30

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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