Aloft Dance
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Aloft Dance

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Comedy




"Aloft's Dinner of Our Discontent has its ups and downs"

Veering from melancholy to hilarity to outright aggression, "Dinner" features five contentious sisters, their deceased parents and the family maid. They've gathered for the reading of the will, a time-honored dramatic situation that Aloft director Shayna Swanson makes her own by physicalizing grief and sibling rivalry. No words are spoken, which sets "Dinner" apart from acrobatic shows such as "Lookingglass Alice."

The best of the 11 acts in Aloft's 75-minute piece provide not only thrills and chills but insight into character. The maid (Beth Stare), who's always balancing people's needs, juggles a plate. The battling twins (Helena Reynolds and Laura Lippert) get way too close for comfort in "Necklace Dance." The parents (Kara Klein and Paul Lange) re-create their courtship by posing as an upside-down pinup girl and an eager youth straight out of a Chagall painting.

Two fast-moving scenes of mass mayhem, choreographed by Swanson, really take off. "Dinner Bell Dance" ends with the maid swinging from a giant suspended lampshade, while "Fight Over the Will" has the performers skimming across or vaulting off a long table. Here kinetic and dramatic energy fuse to suggest the family's emotional violence, setting up the final uneasy reconciliations. - Chicago Tribune

"El Circo Cheapo Goes For Broke"

Chicago-based El Circo Cheapo aptly bills itself as a "poor man's Cirque du Soleil," and for a variety-show circus that can somehow fit clowns, silk acts, aerialists, and more into a single loft for the past five years while only charging $10 admission for its monthly shows, it's hard to argue with that descriptor. Every first Saturday of the month, Artistic Director Shayna Swanson has led her motley crew of performers through two shows featuring acrobatics, clowning, and yes, even a freak show. And yet, El Circo Cheapo has decided to leave the comfort of its hometown loft by embarking on what it's cheekily titled the Get Rich Slow tour: a five-week, seven-city outing that marks its first such excursion. Swanson talked to The A.V. Club in advance El Circo's two-night stand in Denver about the red tape involved in running an underground circus and creepy/douchebag magicians.

The A.V. Club: You've been around for five years, but it seems like El Circo Cheapo is only picking up steam in 2009. Is that fair to say?

Shayna Swanson: It totally is. Partially it’s because we are doing a cheap/free show every month, so people really like that. And also when you do stuff for cheap or free people tend to write about it more, especially now. And we’ve moved to a new space. Our old space was this alleyway in Humboldt Park [in Chicago] and it was really sketchy and there were like rats and dirty mattresses and gang-bangers and drug dealers. People didn’t really want to go there. When they did want to go there, they couldn’t really find it. So now we’re in a space that’s a lot easier to find and it’s beautiful and it feels relatively safe even though there are still prostitutes hanging around. - The AV Club, Denver, CO

"A Different Twist on Chicago: El Circo Cheapo Cabaret"

Picture this: a big abandoned-looking warehouse and a dimly lit alley. A juggling clown stands outside a small side door with a few of his cigarette-puffing friends. This is the guy with “the list.” Intrigued? Damn right, you are. It’s the poor man’s Cirque De Soleil.

Come inside to find trapeze and silks, lights and equipment dangling from rafters. Have a seat on a random couch, folding chair, gym mat, or floor when the lights dim and the ring mistress enters and enjoy the show that takes place practically right above your head. It feels a little like something out of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” but that’s for another day.

Want to hear the best part? It’s BYOB. That’s right, Bring Your Own Booze! Sounds a little boot-leg, right? Well, lighten up because it is, but I can assure you that while the cost is cheap, the talent is not. This is a truly unique experience and you will leave with that holy-shit-that-was-cool feeling. What the hell, you can even bring the kids*.


"El Circo Cheapo Cabaret"

Recommended a "Must See" Show.

Can't shell out 200 big ones for Cirque du Soleil? Shell out 10 for El Circo Cheapo, a monthly spectacular for the New Depression. In lieu of a big-top and mega-bucks, they've got a converted warehouse space, talent and spunk. Featuring a rotating cast of Chicago's most fearless and flexible young performers, this reliably sold-out event has a surprise inside, every time. - Centerstage Chicago


Still working on that hot first release.



Shayna Swanson, the Founder and Artistic Director of Aloft Dance, creates and performs aerial and circus acts that are as technically difficult as they are beautiful. Eleven years of intensive study and practice of Circus arts in the US and Europe, as well as rigorous training in modern dance and gymnastics, have culminated in thrilling release moves and passionate,intricate choreography. Ms. Swanson is a focused and engaging performer whose level of strength and daring puts her at the top of her field; she is also a skilled and imaginative director. Her work has been featured at The Lyric Opera (Chicago, IL), Pegasus Variete (Germany) and the Olympic Greek Festival (Hong Kong) and many other noted venues and circus companies around the globe. Past Gala clients have included Mori Seiki, Harrah’s, Absolut Vodka and the Izod/Indy 500. Ms. Swanson began Aloft Dance in 2005. Starting out in a small room in another aerial studio, Aloft Dance now has its own home, the Aloft Loft, which has become Chicago’s premier training and teaching center for physical performance and aerial and circus arts. Ms.Swanson’s talent as a performer, teacher and director has attracted world-class talent to her studio. Aloft Dance is now Chicago’s leading contemporary circus company, thrilling spectators with their style and grace from Chicago to Shanghai.

Starting in the early 90’s and continuing through the mid-part of 2008, the New Circus Movement, embodied by Cirque du Soleil, involved lavish, technically complex productions. Aloft's work has a different focus; it stems from the philosophy that at circus’ core is the relationship between the performers and the audience. This became our focus and inspiration: to create a different kind of circus where the spectacle and “wow” were contained in the intensity, difficulty, beauty and captivating nature of the performances. The performers clearly communicate with the audience, and the audience, through loud applause, gasps, tears and laughter, communicates with the performers. This is the dialogue Aloft is looking to engage in with its audience, and is what makes our shows unique—everyone, regardless or education, age, culture or background can participate in it. The audience is left thrilled, chilled and awed. This is circus as it has always been intended--powerful, dangerous, intense, hilarious and passionate.