Mythical Tree Spirit to Fly at Orton Park Fest

Cycropia Aerial dance to perform “Kodama” in the Orton oak trees

Cycropia Aerial Dance performs at Orton Park in 2011. This year they can be seen on the evenings of August 23 and 24. Courtesy: Crycropia Aerial Dance

In Japan they call it “Kodama”, the mythical tree spirit that protects old trees. Cycropia Aerial Dance hopes to evoke that spirit in Orton Park, a former graveyard, as severe drought has plagued southern Wisconsin this year. The trees are also the center of a neighborhood debate over the effect of thousands of feet and infrastructure the Orton Park Festival (August 23-26) has each year on the park’s Burr oaks.

For the past 10 years Cycropia Aerial Dance, a local collective named for a silkworm moth that is native to Wisconsin, has electrified the first two evenings of the festival with aerial displays to entertain what last year was an estimated 4,000 people crammed into the park.

This majestic Burr oak has been the center of Cycropia’s Orton Park performances for the past ten years. Swings, silks, and a lira that are rigged in the tree will all be used by the performers.

This year Cycropia will offer lyrical healing to the trees in two performances of “Kodama” featuring eight aerial dance pieces enhanced with music, lights, costumes, and glitter…lots of glitter says Luv Joy Seamon, a Cycropia director.

“The most amazing thing ever,” Seamon says about the vast expanse of the crowd that witness their performances at Orton Park. “What is so cool is to be upside down and spinning and all you see is the canopy of a tree….it’s a pretty amazing feeling”

The performers do a lot of spinning. During a final rehearsal Sunday (August 19) in the park, performers were running around the tree in a flowing formation, some breaking off to jump onto low hanging swings and spinning about as others stood by in artistic poses. They often would trade places with those on the swing, dismounting in various ways including sliding to a stop on the grass; which in other years might have been soft and welcoming.

The music is a key component, helping to pace the performers and enhance the visual display. This year guests artists from the Fresco Opera Theater will be adding their voices to the performance. In “Kodama” you just might find yourself clapping along as two and sometimes three performers use a a large ring suspended from the tree called lyra. The lyra is just one of many aerial devices Cycropia (pronounced: sy-KROW-pee-ah) uses for this performance which also include colorful 20-foot silks, swings, and more.

Cycropia members rehearse in the park
In their 23 years in existence, Cycropia has employed a multitude of metal aerial devices of the trade including 14-foot steel poles, ladders, and metal cubes. Orton Park is one of two major performances that take place during the year; the other being their spring performance in the gymnasium of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County where the group is largely based. They also use a dance studio near the head of State Street that is owned by the UW-Extension.

Related: Is the Orton Park Festival too successful?

Luv Joy Seamon says the 10-member collective is a non-profit organization consisting of choreographers and directors, although some of their students also create some of the choreography. Its a very active group with rehearsals being held almost every day of the week. In addition to preparing for peformances, Cycropia offers classes to adults interested in learning aerial dance which is different from a circus trapeze in that many of the devices are rigged to a single point much lower in the air like a ceiling or tree; usually 15 to 30 feet off the ground.

Members of the “Flyers” program which are Cycropia students, practice a performance for the Orton Park Festival.

Its the trees in the park that make Cycropia’s Orton peformances so unique. Seamon says that this year they consulted an arborist which allowed them to reach new heights while also protecting and securing the tree which is a majestic Burr Oak.

“For the first time we have been working with an Arborist. He taught us how to get way higher than we ever had before. We have dancers that are getting up to 40 feet high in the tree where usually our limit is about used to be 23 [feet].”

While this is the first time they have consulted with their own arborist, Cycropia works each year with the City’s arborist to get clearances for all the activities they will be doing in and around the tree.

Cyropia will be performing “Kodama” on August 23 at 7:45 p.m. as part of Family Night at the Orton Park Festival. The Festival performance is Friday August 24 at 8:15 pm.

“Kodama” is funded in part by a grant from the Madison Arts Commission with additional funding from the Wisconsin Arts Board. Cycropia member Nataraj Hauser says that in the past the groups activities where funded largely by grants; but as funding has decreased in recent years the group does six to seven selected paid performances, usually for corporations.

More information about Cycropia can be found here

The full Orton Park Festival schedule can be viewed here

“Kodama” trailer

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8 thoughts on “Mythical Tree Spirit to Fly at Orton Park Fest

  1. I am one of the students with Cycropia. Thank you for the good article. BTW, the ring stuff is spelled lyra, not lira.
    If you can change it, that would be great!

    I’ve been enjoying Willy Street Blog.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for the comments and the correction…it has been fixed. Gee…found several locations that had my original spelling…I thought the internet was always right. 😉

  2. Thanks so much for the great article, photos ect! I do have 1 additional clafification. The entire show is titled “Kodama” and it includes choreography by “flyers” (or students) as well as collective members.
    Enjoying your blog!

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