The feeling of flying is basic to the human psyche
We are infinite souls, temporarily bound within these bodies, and in our lifetime quest to understand and to return to the full breadth of our consciousness, we look up to the sky and see the birds bound and swoop. We feel that part of ourselves start to breathe. We remember.
I used to have this recurring dream that my ballet technique had gotten so great, that I could pull up from my center with such perfect control so that I could fly around the room. I dreamed that my core, the core of myself was so powerful as to defy the planet. This isn’t a fantasy. In this dream I learn that the practices and hopes of my waking life have meaning well beyond my human understanding. The ballet discipline of “pulling up” has its basis in the mastery of my spirit well beyond human-ness.
There is also something in life to the feeling of falling. When I can remember this, I stop the impossible task of controlling everything and I trust. We get tricked by gravity into thinking there are guaranteed outcomes and black and white answers. If I remember that existence isn’t simply this Earth (the Earth is a speck!), then the truth is actually that I am falling through the universe.
When I first started choreographing Peter Pan, now 15 years ago, I was particularly interested in creating the flying sequences. I had just finished performing in Michael Curry’s Spirits and one of my sections was a long solo spent mostly in the air. We took about 8 months developing that dance and I spent many days in a rented high school auditorium, gradually getting slammed into cement walls less and less until eventually I felt expert both in dancing and in crafting flying in a way that was organic and did not call attention to the wires that made it all possible.
I knew how to make Peter’s flight seem real. I spent 2 days at the Foy studios in Las Vegas and finished choreographing the flying in the 1st day. I spent day 2 putting myself in the harness and getting them to hold my feet and shoot me across the room like a slingshot. Flying is everything you would imagine it is at its very best. Houston Ballet invested in constructing a scale reproduction of the theater inside a warehouse so that I could really spend time with the dancers and meticulously stage those parts.
In the 15 years since, during many different re-stagings, cost has made brevity in the staging of flying very important. We have switched to automation in the execution of Peter Pan’s character and this requires a painstaking programming process in each new theater.
It feels like I’m being slowly strangled as I sit on the edge of the stage and wait for a single flying pass to be attempted, adjusted, tried again, made worse, tried again, made a little better, and then forever later, some progress. This time is terrible in that how it tortures me with how utterly human we are. How we cannot fly without this massive machinery, without a crotch destroying harness that reminds us of the pain of gravity.
And then it finally all works and what a pleasure to sit with an audience as they enjoy the final result. They only get to live in the wonder only. They get forget their human-ness and remember their own magic.