Seanna Sharpe is an aerialist, a mischief-maker, a gypsy, an educator and an artist. Suspended in the air tethered to fabric high above a gallery or loft, using choreography, light and space, she personifies the transformative qualities of art. But not in the same way a theater experience moves us to think deeply about our lives. It’s more about watching something ethereal and realizing art in a new way. Watching Sharpe and her collective of aerialists (she used the term “dojo” when attempting to describe their philosophy), we are forced to think about what beauty is and how high the ceiling might be for a life steeped in this work.
And what does her art look like up there? Elegant. Intimate. Captivating. For her Secret Stories Soirees Sharpe blends the blues and cirque (by way of Brooklyn), intermixing mysterious spoken tales.
Seeing her is only part of it, though. Sharpe heads three seminal organizations, each dedicated to changing the world through the art of flying. The Urban Circus NYC is the most accessible and targets the community with open-level classes and private acts for corporate and private events. It also helps bring in the funding for the deeper and more integral work that happens in her Aeon Aerial Arts Academy and Katana Flight School. The former is a platform for intensive aerial arts training for adults (“entrance criteria based on integrity”). The latter is a space to help underprivileged urban youth learn how to fly through a “balance of empowerment and accountability.” This radical idea and gorgeous inversion of metaphorical thinking—teaching children to fly literally to help them fly figuratively—is at the heart of the work. “You can’t change the world using what already exists, but children are so open and so powerful…they know so many things that we’re so quick to forget,” Sharpe said. She’s transforming culture by educating the body, imagination and soul in poverty-stricken areas.
The best way to be inspired by Sharpe is to experience a production and put yourself in a room with that vision. This month, it’s The Secret Below, an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. This Secret Stories Soiree, which highlights the “mentorship aspect of the mission” features adults and kids from her Katana school flying together in an intimate loft space in Bushwick, a collaboration that promises to plant the idea of wings in even the most terrestrial of audience member.
words: alan semerdjian | photo: eric mindling