|Sky High: The story of Asheville Aerial Arts
Christine Aiken, Founder/Artistic Director began Asheville Aerial Arts as an informal project for the Asheville Area
Arts Council’s June 16th, 2007 Patron Party, entitled Frost. Approached by Heather Smith, one of the party hosts,
Christine was asked to perform an aerial act on the trapeze. Once discussions had began late in February of
2007, Christine realized the scope of the event and the space. The party was to be held in the Atrium of the
Haywood Park Hotel, a venue that offers 3 floor levels of a glass topped atrium. The space was ample, and
attendance was expected to reach the 450 person mark. Christine decided to make mention that she may be
able to assemble and train a bigger team to offer a more appropriate act for the venue.
The very same day, Christine received a phone call from a friend, Monique Cote. Monique was excited about a
performer she had met that had aerial experience and was willing to work with Monique on developing her
potential. The first lesson was to be the following day. Christine accompanied Monique and a Warren Wilson
College student, Candice Caldwell, to the Future of Traditions studio to meet with Ambra Lionstone. Ambra has
been performing for private events in many locations over the past several years. She has developed her skill
mostly as a self-taught artist. Ambra was excited to become involved with new artist willing and able to learn her
craft. Christine called Heather, the party host, to come down to watch and provide feedback. After witnessing the
new artists, Ambra, and Christine in their collaborative efforts that day, Heather Smith was excited about the
possibilities. It was then the decision was made to pursue an endeavor that would lead to the formation of
Asheville Aerial Arts.
Recruiting and creation of the rigs began immediately on March 1st 2007. Fabric and hardware was sought and
purchased. Conceptual designs of practice rigs were put into place, and rehearsals began. Starting with a small
group of just a few, Christine began spreading the word to everyone and anyone that would listen about the need
for physically gifted individuals capable of being trained on an aerial rig. Interested parties expressed their
desires, and were given location and schedules for rehearsals. Some of the hopefuls simply realized that
heights were not for them, and as the rigs were raised in height, their comfort disappeared. Since the event was
only 12 weeks or so away, some of the hopefuls realized the grueling training would not work with their existing
schedules. So, the group expanded to as many as 18, and scaled back to a solid 8 aerial artists. These “Initial
Eight”, as Christine refers to them, would eventually become the amazing human artists featured at Frost.
As rehearsals continued, Christine worked with the artists in group and individual sessions to develop their
styles and skills. All the while, she was meeting with climbers, architects, building supervisors, engineers, and
builders to form a collaborative consensus of a plan to rig the space. Heather Smith and Michael Parker, the
hosts for Frost, played instrumental roles in the development of the artistic portion of the party, as never before
had aerial art been recognized in the Asheville community as a form of art. They wanted to change that attitude
and bring aerial arts to the forefront of the community. Through their dedication to the Asheville Area Arts Council,
their volunteer time paved the way for the first ever aerial group to be formed. Heather’s support and
encouragement fueled the direction and creation of what has now become an aerial troupe. Michael Parker’s
construction of the original custom rigging allowed the aerial acts to be performed for the first time in the
Haywood Park Hotel Atrium.
Once the artists had been selected and were on their way to developing their skills, Christine began searching
for spotters. She put the word out that she would need able-bodied people with no per-existing injuries to be
trained for aerial spotting. This became a crucial part of the event, as the rigs were suspended between 12 and
26 feet above a hard marble floor. Safety lines, crash pads, and nets were ruled out because of the type of
apparatus to be used, a “Loop” or “Fabric Sling”. So the only component to save an artist from certain injury and
possible death was a spotter. Obviously locating an existing skilled aerial spotter was not an easy task, so
Christine decided to train people to become aerial spotters. As the word went out Christine gathered together a
group of law enforcement officers, builders, climbers, nurses, and other professionals to begin training.
Christine owns rigging set up for safely lines, and began working the artists and spotters in the rigs to learn to fall
and catch. This was a skill that none of them wanted to need, but nevertheless, needed.
As the rigs were lifted higher off the ground, Christine began utilizing the spotters for practices. The spotters
were trained in lifts, throws, stunts, catches, setting, and spinning. Radio calls and hand signals were developed
for communication in a noisy venue. Spotters were instructed in catching a falling performer in head first, feet
first, lateral, spinning, and twisting falls. Great trust was developed between Christine, the artists, and the
spotters, and it did not come easy. The artists had to function against their better judgment and instinct to let go
and fall out of a rig, and rely on the spotters to catch them. The spotters had to fight their natural instinct of
grabbing whatever they could just to break or control a fall. Eventually, falling and catching became a normal
process and enhanced the level and longevity of the artists and the resulting performance.
On June 16th, 2007 the Asheville Aerial Artists made their debut in the Atrium of the Haywood Park Hotel for
Frost. The troupe is now developed and is performing at various functions, events, and parties. As each event
and venue varies, the customization of aerial acts has and will continue to develop. Pricing is event based, and
additional acts such as juggling, stilt walking, slack rope, and fire are also available.