Mara Neimanis is set to perform her unique aerial theater “Naomi’s Flight” in January in Key West. She said the project grew out of her personal experiences with her mother’s Alzheimer’s battle. Neimanis, an artist in residence at the Studios of Key West, explains in her own words:
Q: Your performance seems to defy gravity and a few other scientific laws. Can you describe the performance?
A: I don’t think I defy gravity, as much as I partner with it to tell a story. My work integrates circus arts with acting to create stories, text, and characters, which explore the rich interplay of imagination between air and ground. Specifically, however, Naomi’s Flight is a love story of Naomi who has dementia, being treated for Alzheimer’s, and her husband George, who is her 80-year-old caregiver. Naomi and George are also my parents. The play is based on the exchanges and stories that they have shared with me in the past seven years during which time my mother has declined. The piece uses three aerial sculptures as ways to depict character, time passage, memory, and the daily grind of getting through a terrible disease. The piece is also about our health care policies and elder care. Naomi’s Flight creates a world where characters can exist in the air and thereby give more meaning to the ground. Metaphor becomes part of the story.
Q: How much time did it take you to choreograph this show?
A: This one was fast. It took my director (and husband) Bryce Butler and I eight months to write, create choreography, and integrate all the acting beats, scenes, the piece as a whole, though I had the sculptures before I did any writing which does not always happen. One show usually takes us about a year to two years to choreograph.
Q: What did you find the most difficult in developing this show?
A: Not creating imitations of my parents but rather finding my portrayal of them.
Q: Where else have you performed?
A: I’ve toured my solo pieces, which I have three, internationally in Canada, Latvia, Costa Rica, and Israel. In the States I have performed in, San Francisco, Humboldt County, Los Angeles, Memphis, D.C., Buffalo, Baltimore, and Virginia.
Q: Tell us a little about the training you’ve had and your fitness regimen.
A: My background is in physical theatre, mask, clown, mime, and Commedia Dell’Arte (a type of 16th century Italian theater based on improvisation). My aerial training comes from The San Francisco School of Circus Arts for Circus and aerial improv with aerial pioneer Terry Sendgraff, who I trained intensely with for six years.
My conditioning components include cardio work on the floor combined with upper bodywork that I mostly do on trapeze and apparatus that I perform with. I like to train with my own weight rather than weights at the gym. I’ve been lucky in that the last six years I have had back-to-back projects. The best aerial conditioning comes from just doing it.
Q:You offer classes on aerials and conditioning. Tell us a little about them and where they’re held.
A: I teach out of my studio in The Station North Arts District and in D.C. I teach trapeze technique, aerial movement and choreography. My specialty is in devising physical work on invented apparatus as well as off the ground empowerment workshops.
Q: Naomi’s Flight isn’t your only aerial performance. Can you tell us a little about Air Heart?
A: Air Heart is a 60-minute solo show that combines fact, poetry, and history in telling the story and final flight of Amelia Earhart. It takes place on a 12-foot high spinning metal airplane sculpture created by Tim Scofield and Laura Shults.
Q: How did you hear about the residency program at The Sutdios?
A: Jed Dodds (executive director of The Studios) has been a profound influence on me as a human being and as an artist.
Q: Have you been to Key West before?
Q: What do you hope to impress upon those that attend your shows on Jan. 18 & 19 at The Studios?
A: I want to introduce Key West to aerial theatre. I hope the piece will inspire dialog about our parents, our country, and our systems both personal and political. This is a terrible disease and sharing the story may bring more of us together.
Q: What is the best way for our readers to find out more about you and what In-Flight Theater is all about?
A: www.in-flighttheater.com for info about classes, events, and performances.