Introducing the incredibly talented Anna McDonnell…
We are extremely honoured to have Anna joining the Skylab Team in June teaching the Drop-in Aerial Yoga (Beginners / Advanced) and Extreme Stretch classes. She will also be running her signature Performance And Act Creation Master Class in June in the run up to our Showcase. She is an incredibly talented and highly skilled performer with a passion for teaching. She also specialises in Hoop, Silks and Contortion. You can take a look at her showreel here – check it out it’s amazing!
A little bit more about her as circus performer and teacher …
Anna started gymnastics at 5 years old and from 2001 she formed part of the core British Rhythmic Gymnastics Squad. She moved to Argentina in 2007, where she first discovered her passion for circus. From 2011, she was performing as an aerialist with the contemporary circus collective ‘Amor Eterno.’ In early 2013, Anna moved to Brazil, where she joined the circus company ‘Grupo Ares.’ She performed at a number of international events, shows and festivals as an aerialist and contortionist. Some of her performances have included hanging from cranes to perform her aerial hoop routine, as well as performing aerial dance routines on some of Sao Paulo’s highest sky scrapers and famous monuments. In 2014, she won the Capital Fitness Pole Dance Championships in Brasilia. Anna has a passion for teaching, and during her time in Brazil, she worked as an aerials, pole and flexibility instructor at “Metrópole”, and “Escola Duda Ribeiro.” She has been teaching handstands, flexibility and aerial dance in London since 2016.
Here is an interview I did with Anna where she tells us all about her aerial journey, the ups the downs, the what’s and the whys, the highlights and hopes and dreams for the future…
Have you always been into circus? For example did you do it as a kid? At what point did you decide circus was your thing? Although I did rhythmic gymnastics from the age of 5 until about 18, I discovered circus relatively late, when I was 25. I was living in Buenos Aires and I saw some girls playing on their aerial silks in the park. I asked them if I could have a go and it was love at first climb. I’ve never looked back.
What is it about circus that you most like? What I most like about circus is that it’s not really a discipline, like, say ballet or gymnastics, where the idea is to conform to a very rigid style. Circus is all about freedom and about what you can bring to the table with your own background and your own experiences. I think for many people, it still holds a kind of mystique from the days of the travelling circus; a world of imagination and wonder that transports us to our childhoods.
What made you get into aerial? After that episode in the park, I found an amazing place to train aerials in a huge old warehouse in Buenos Aires. I loved being up high and learning new moves and I made some really great friends, who were as hooked as I was to circus.
What made you get into teaching?I first started teaching whilst I was still in Buenos Aires at a place called Sexto Kultural. It is an arts centre in the city, with a view of the train cemetery and we were often able to train outside on the roof of the sixth floor in nice weather. I discovered a real passion for passing on what I’d learnt and seeing how my students progressed so fast.
What’s your favourite apparatus and why?My favourite apparatus is undoubtedly the aerial hoop. I love the gracefulness of it, the way it frames your body, the simplicity of it and the infinite paths and variations you can find in it. And it spins! It’s like a big toy for adults.
What’s your fave move and why?Hmmm, there are so many. Actually, you know my favourite move on the aerial hoop is a mega fast spin, with a winch, so the hoop moves upwards as you are spinning. You know when you spin so fast you become a blur? It’s really exhilarating and it always gets a great reaction from the audience. It took me ages to master it without feeling queasy though.
Do you have any advice for a newbie student starting out in aerial? I would say don’t get disheartened, don’t give up. Aerials is tough, it hurts, but it is so worth it when you start to look back and see how fast and amazingly our bodies adapt to being up in the air.
Any top tips for current students that you may have up your sleeve? I would absolutely say that the more things you can do to complement aerials, like conditioning and stretching, the easier you’ll find your training sessions. What we do is really demanding on the body so stretching and conditioning are an absolute must to keep your body strong and healthy.
How would you describe your teaching style?I have had so many amazing teachers that have inspired me and I think I have adopted a bit of each of them. I like everyone to have fun in a class and to encourage people to express themselves doing aerials and to bring their own personalities to the table once they have learnt a move. I think incorporating dance and theatricality to classes can be a great way of exploring a whole new dimension of movement.
Why would you recommend doing aerial?Aerials and aerial yoga are such incredible ways of keeping fit, having fun, being creative, meeting new people, learning something new in every class and challenging yourself to constantly push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
What’s been a highlight of your aerial career so far?I think my highlight was performing with Circo Vox in Brazil. We put on a show called ‘Nostalgia’ for a season in a real circus tent, which was a homage to traditional circus, with traditional circus. It was such a magical, emotional experience, with a great cast and I got to meet some of the pioneers of traditional travelling circuses in South America from the 1960s.
Do you have any hopes and dreams for the future? I would love to carry on teaching and growing as a performer for as long as I can and continue to enjoy the challenge every new day brings.
What’s on your bucket list of aerial things you would like to achieve? I’ve already ticked off a couple, which were hanging from a crane and from a skyscraper in the aerial hoop. The one I would still love to do is to hang from a hot air balloon. I saw an aerial artiste do it at a festival a few years ago and I thought, “Wow, I want to do that sooooo much.”
What’s been your best circus adventure so far? There have been so many circus adventures and I’ve been so lucky to be able to travel all over South America with different companies. One of the most memorable tours for me was with a show called ‘Entre Nos’ in Sao Paulo. There were four artists and we co-directed the show. It was amazing to be part of the creative process and to find a way to tell a story collectively.
What’s been your worst circus adventure so far?My worst circus adventure was getting injured in 2015 and having to stop what I loved most in the world for an entire year. It was really tough, but when you are performing professionally it kind of comes with the territory. It was a difficult time but now I’m back to training again, I appreciate every second of it so much more than I did before.
Do you have any favourite circus shows you would love to share with us or performers who you greatly admire?I have just been to see a show called ‘Before midnight’ at the Roundhouse by Compagnie XY. It was breathtaking. They are a collective of 22 acrobats who all co-direct their shows. It is such an amazing feat of team work and trust, especially when they form human towers of about 5 people! Elena Gatilova is one of the aerial hoop performers I most admire. She comes from a rhythmic gymnastics background like me. I remember when I started out, I would watch her videos over and over again in complete awe (still do).
Can you tell us something surprising about yourself?I’m also a trained interpreter and I speak four languages.
Do you have any performers / people in your life who you highly respect and look up to who you see as major influencers in your life? Well the people I most highly rate are my mum and dad, for carting me back and forth to gymnastics almost every night for so many years, for coming to all of my competitions and for fully supporting me when I decided to do circus professionally. They’ve always encouraged me to do what makes me happy and I feel incredibly lucky for that. I’m also so inspired by my first ever contortion and aerial hoop teacher, Fernanda Ledesma. She was such a generous, dedicated teacher. Every time she got on the hoop, I would sigh and wish I could be like her some day.
If you want to find out more about Anna check these links here:
We hope you enjoyed hearing all about Anna’s incredible aerial journey! Please like, share and comment – if you’ve not already met her, why not come and try one of her classes. Then you can experience her awesomeness yourself!
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