Dowagiac students to participate in special show during Dogwood

(Submitted photo)

(Submitted photo)

While not as experienced as the rest of this year’s lineup of artists, the group of performers who will take the stage of the Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center for the opening shows of the 2016 Dogwood Fine Arts Festival will be immediately recognizable to the audience.

Kindergarten through 12th-grade students will have the opportunity to join the high-flying performers with Kalamazoo’s Aerial Angels for a special series of shows during the May fine arts festival, entitled “Starfish Circus.” Students interested in participating in the show are encouraged to attend open auditions for the program from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at the middle school auditorium.

Students who attend the tryout will be selected to serve different roles during the performance, and will spend two weeks learning the various tricks and stunts from five instructors with the Aerial Angels, said director
Allison Williams.

No experience in dance or other performing arts is necessary. Instructors will concentrate on teaching kids the basics of the equipment they will be using during the shows, followed by some basic moves before putting it altogether in a choreographed routine, Williams said.

“It’s all about taking risks and allowing failure to be part of the program. Because when you fail, it means you’re trying something new,” Williams said.

Among the skills students will learn are aerial silks, where they will perform acrobatic stunts from fabric suspended in the air; spinning poi, where students will swing illuminated rods to create a light show; and other acrobatic stunts. Other students will have a chance to perform in various comedy routines throughout each show. Younger children, instead of performing aerial-based stunts, will do basic cartwheels and other grounded acrobatics during the performances.

The Starfish Circus program is the creation of Williams, the founder of the Aerial Angels, a performing arts company that specializes in highflying acrobatics. Working with their first batch of students in 2003, Williams and other instructors have taught elementary, junior high and high school students how to perform various acrobatic routines and stunts at institutions throughout the U.S., Williams said.

“I love working with high school students,” Williams said. “They’re at that age when a little nudge can make a huge difference.”

While the routine may at first appear impossible for new students to grasp when they first begin rehearsals, by breaking down everything into simple, basic steps, the instructors help the performers build their newfound skills — as well their confidence, Williams said.

“The most amazing thing about the program is how many kids feel like it has influenced the direction of their lives,” Williams said. “They feel stronger; they feel more in control.”

The Starfish Circus will take place at 7 p.m. on May 5 and 6. Tickets for the show cost $10 for adults and $5 for students.

The 2016 Dogwood Fine Arts Festival takes place May 5-15. For information or tickets, people can contact the festival office at (866) 490-2847.

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