Summer Davies is hanging from two long pieces of fabric — deep blue and bright red — suspended over a small canyon near Mt. Kinesava.
The setting sun breaks through the clouds, illuminating the peak in Zion National Park in a magic hour glow while dropping a diffused light on Davies and her fellow aerial dancer, Cheryl Broughton. Dressed in dance costumes to match their aerial fabric, the two perform tightly choreographed moves over the wash, twisting in and out of the silky material in a display of artistry and physical fitness.
“I really enjoy the element of being able to dance in the air,” Davies says of the art form. “You’re combining strength with athleticism with beauty.”
The dancer just moved to Springdale in November. She discovered aerial dance four years ago in Southern California where she lived for most of her life. She and Darren Jeffrey, her partner in life and creativity, came to Southern Utah for vacation and fell in love with the area. When they decided to move away from big city Los Angeles life, Springdale beckoned.
Before aerial dance, Davies focuses mostly on modern and jazz styles. When she discovered aerial dance, though, it changed everything. It quickly drew her in.
However, the studio where she took classes was about an hour’s drive so she asked Jeffrey to rig an aerial dance space at their home. Jeffrey is the chief visionary officer for ATS Filmworks, an L.A.-based company that provides production services like stunt design rigging for films, commercials, concerts and television shows, including “American Ninja Warrior,” “The Amazing Race,” “The Biggest Loser,” “The Bachelor” and “Big Brother.”
“He’s an expert at what he does,” Davies says.
Soon she was having friends over to explore the world of aerial dance together as she made the transition from student to teacher in only about a year’s time. She created her own studio, Vertical Art Dance, in order to make the art form more accessible for others.
Broughton was among the aerial dancers she worked with in California. Similar in build, they have been dancing together for two year now, often creating mirror images of each other during the performance.
Still based in California, Broughton is here in Springdale for this photo shoot and a performance at the St. George Contemporary Dance Concert at Dixie State University. They have already finished the concert so now they just need still photos and video footage for what will be a YouTube video for Vertical Art Dance.
Davies has previously filmed remote riggings in a variety of scenic locations throughout the west, from Arizona and California to Alaska and Hawaii. She and Jeffrey collaborate on ideas of where to shoot and how to make it happen.
“I usually have the choreography set; then we look for a location to fit that,” she says.
Because their home has 14-ceilings, she is able to choreograph from a harness there.
Her first remote rigging was near a waterfall in Maui in 2012. In October she performed one in the Mojave Desert after escaping from a straightjacket at the beginning of the dance.
“I wanted to create a more urban feel,” she says of the Mojave Desert performance. “We actually rigged off of a train — an abandoned train. I was lifted up in ankle wrap off the fabric and had to escape the straightjacket. After the straightjacket was removed I went into my dance. It was really fun working on that piece.”
In April, Davies and Jeffrey created their first Southern Utah remote rigging with a highline over a wash just outside of Zion National Park. Broughton also came to town for that one — called “The Wings of Zion” — performing alongside Davies about 40 feet off the ground.
Because they were so high for that shoot, the dancers wore harnesses with a full belay system like rock climbers use. But for this second shoot, just outside the boundary of Zion, they are much closer to the ground — close enough they can climb up the aerial
fabrics from the wash bottom.
Called “The Wings of Zion, Part II,” this shoot focuses on framing the dancers with the rock walls of the wash around them rather than appearing to soar above the scenery as they did in the first Southern Utah shoot.
“I want to show people the outdoors,” she says of the remote location shoots.
Davies hopes the combination of scenery and art will inspire others to explore and be creative.
When she and Jeffrey first began shooting the remote riggings, it was just the two of them, setting up their own cameras. Now they have hired photographer James Halfacre to shoot both stills and video.
Also helping with this Springdale shoot is Annie Berry, who is learning the basics of aerial dance from Davies. Berry operates Southern Utah Pole Dance from her home studio in St. George. She first met Davies when the aerial dancer attended one of her pole dance classes.
Berry says she has been interested in other aerial arts ever since she began pole dancing.
“I had wanted to get silks and an aerial hoop before but I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she says.
Now with Davies’ help, Berry is broadening her aerial repertoire. Although she says aerial dancing is tough, she has a head start because of her pole dance experience. The two dance forms use similar muscle groups and movements.
One of her favorite aspects of aerial dance is its playfulness.
“I just like doing fun things,” Berry says. “I like climbing. I like playing around.”
While she is not dancing during the photo shoot, Berry helps with the rigging, operates a second camera and boosts the dancers to help them begin the climb up their aerial fabric.
For their next remote rigging, Davies and Jeffrey are hoping to create a performance in the Lake Powell area. Davies says she is already experimenting with choreography for it.
However, her next performance
is on Sept. 6, mixing the technical elements of a classic indoor performance with the scenery of a remote rigging at Springdale’s O.C. Tanner Amphitheater.
No matter where she’s dancing, Davies says it’s all about where it takes those who watch her performance.
“I love that we can take the audience into a different space,” she says. “It’s really this three-dimensional space I’m drawn to.”
For information about her art and to watch her remote location shoots visit VerticalArtDance.com.