Story by Jeela Ongley
Photo by Dana Edmunds
In the humid, mirrored studio, parents watch proudly— and nervously—as their daughters do splits, spins and twists in a midair game of cat’s cradle. The girls, gangly on the ground, fly with grace and confidence when suspended upside down fifteen feet in the air or intertwined in pairs on the low-flying trapeze. They perform the waterfall, the bird’s nest, the angel, the arabesque, perhaps moving toward the inspired state of samadhi—“total selfcollectedness”— for which the troupe of aerialists is named.
Samadhi Hawaii appears often at local events, dangling elegantly and precipitously over stages and pavilions throughout the state. “The performances I love the most are the ones that we do outside with Hawaiian themes and accompanied by live musicians,” says co-founder and Brazilian native Andrea Torres. “We try to link the circus to culture and to the land.”
Torres’ own training might have led her to Cirque du Soleil-style precision performance, but instead she’s developed a looser style for Samadhi Hawaii, one that combines music, theater and dance. Petite and flexible, Torres brought her more interpretive choreography to the Tau Dance Theatre production Poli‘ahu, Goddess of Mauna Kea, in which she combined ballet with aerialism to perform en pointe, midair.
Aerial acrobatics does require a certain fearlessness, and accidents happen. “Star drops or helicopter drops can be dangerous if you don’t hook the leg right,” says Torres, referring to moves where performers unwind in fast tumbles down the long aerial silks. “Or sometimes you’re thirty feet above the ground, and you get stuck up there.”
The poise, power and confidence to make it look effortless takes years to develop, but Torres insists that anyone can do aerial acrobatics, and Samadhi Hawaii offers classes to would-be defiers of gravity. Students first train in circuit-style fitness conditioning and then move on to the apparatus.
Even if students don’t go on to become performers, they can still benefit from the workout and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. “Our style is about creating a relationship with your apparatus, then finding the strength to develop the rest,” Torres says. “Not everybody needs to do everything the same way—our oldest student is 68. Once they get that self-confidence, we can build on it.”