At the cusp of one year closing and the next unfolding, you will find aerialist Megumi Yamada, in quiet contemplation as she choreographs new acts for the coming season. “Writing is important in my creative process. I write about the past year, my feelings, my motivation to continue. I allow colors and emotions to inspire me. I am always looking to improve and be original.” Says Megumi, known professionally by just her first name. Drawing on experience, playing with new ideas, improving and developing favorite moves, she creates unique acts that require flexibility, strength, and artistic skills.
Aerial work originated as a circus skill but has developed into a category of its own in the performing arts. It combines acrobatics, dance and theatre to create entertainment, atmosphere and a “wow!” factor for the audience. Today aerial work incudes, silks, Lyra hoop, straps, trapeze and rope for one or more performers.
Megumi specializes in several types of equipment, but momentum, friction and gravity she creates a mesmerizing performance, that to mere mortals in the audience, can appear at times ethereal and death-defying in turn.
Aerial work is no longer the hidden and secretive skill that it once was, passed on from one generation to the next, within families. There are schools in many major cities that teach circus skills to both children and adults for recreational and motivational purposes as well as providing training facilities for professionals. However, what sets apart the professionals is the skill level and artistry.
The seamless transitions from one pose to the next, connecting the twists, turns and falls, into fluid storytelling is what sets apart the best professionals like Megumi. She especially brings the Japanese aesthetic of allowing her equipment to “live” in her performances. This approach she says “makes the most of the silks by enhancing their beauty and elegance of movement rather than just being a means to an end of showing off a performer’s physical skills.” The silks become an extension of herself and part of the narrative and atmosphere that she creates.
Megumi is also a consummate storyteller and enjoys creating mimed stories of rooftop ninjas, a transformation of a chrysalis to butterfly or a homeless person into an aerial nymph.
Her personal story is also one of transformation. Originally, she was a successful professional belly dancer. At the age of 30 however she decided that she had to change her life and challenge herself. With no gymnastics experience at all, she decided to learn to do a handstand. She went to a gym that just happened to also train aerial skills, and that changed the trajectory of her life. Her desire to continue to challenge herself, her work ethic and determination led to her winning first place in a silk’s competition in Hong Kong after only two years of study. She decided to move to the United States where she became a finalist in the Silks Division of the US Aerial Championships in New York.
Today she is a professional aerialist. She is the Aerial Director of Cirque du Nuit, a performance design company that specializes in audience-driven immersive and interactive theatrical events. She also freelances worldwide providing magical moments that most of us can only stare at by looking skywards and gasping in wonder.