Joanna Furgal, executive director of AirDance New Mexico, remembers exactly when the pandemic hit home for her and her fellow aerial artists. “When COVID hit our state in 2020, we had just been one of the first performances for the Revolutions Festival. We got to do our show, and then the rest of the festival had to shut down.”
The month-long Revolutions International Theatre Festival, organized for decades by Albuquerque’s Tricklock Company, closed in the middle of its March 2020 run. The theater company, which called Albuquerque home for more than 27 years, struggled to get international performers back home before COVID restrictions hit—and was ultimately forced to close its doors by the start of summer 2020. AirDance, a nonprofit organization providing aerial performance and aerial dance classes, has spent the last two years on its toes trying to avoid the fate that befell so many other members of Albuquerque’s artistic community.
AirDance has been around since 2011, providing a home for talented aerialists, dancers, choreographers and artists who frequently work suspended above a dance stage on ropes, silks, trapeze bars and lyras. Joanna Furgal took over as executive director in 2018 when the company’s Founder and Artistic Director Debra Landau retired. Until COVID hit, the group occupied a 2,400-square-foot, black-box theater space with 24-foot ceilings built inside a 1930s church in Albuquerque’s South Valley. The custom-renovated space was owned by Landau and her partner, who were forced to sell off the property, “like ya do during a pandemic,” as Furgal puts it.
Undeterred by the loss of their home, AirDance began looking for a new space in which to take flight. The company worked with a realtor and “looked at every single warehouse space” in Albuquerque. Unfortunately, says Furgal, “They were all out of budget or the ceilings were not high enough.”
Unable to host live shows for the last two years, AirDance was without a primary source of income. And yet they have persisted. “There’s two main reasons we survived,” says Furgal. “One is that, during 2020, myself and one of the other instructors, Kristen Woods, we gave half-price private lessons—because it wasn’t safe to do group lessons—for essentially no pay. Just so we could make rent. For months. Obviously not everybody has the ability to do that. And that was the main thing that kept us going, was just that we were able to volunteer our time to weather it.”
The group also saw a handful of donations from community members who wanted to see them survive. “And then we got a grant from the city when we were moving, and that’s truly what saved us.”
Eventually, AirDance members found themselves at 3300 Princeton NE near Candelaria. “When we found that space,” says Furgal, “I could tell right away that it worked really well for our educational programming—which is really what we’ve been focusing on. Because it hasn’t really felt safe to do shows.” The group moved into the new space in September of last year.
“We have a roommate, Andrew Fearnside, sharing space with us. Otherwise, we’re a very small nonprofit and we probably wouldn’t be able to afford a space. So that’s one major thing we’re doing to survive COVID: we’re combining forces with other artists.” Fearnside, a well-known local muralist, occupies about a third of the warehouse space, while AirDance takes up the rest.
Although the new location has been used exclusively for rehearsal and teaching space, Furgal and her fellow dance company members remain confident about future plans. “We’ll make it a performance space. We’ll figure it out when the time comes.”
In the meantime, AirDance has dipped its toes into live performing again, contributing some “ambient performances” to a monthly S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) Night at Balloon Museum earlier this month. But the group is “still sort of waiting to see—knowing how bad it is to start something and have to cancel it.” That knowledge comes from “watching our friends at Tricklock deal with the fallout of [Revolutions]. Since we have so much educational programming and we have work to do, we haven’t really put any thought or bandwidth into restarting performances.” But, says Furgal, “It’s just now starting to feel like that light is at the end of the tunnel.”
“In the old space, pre-COVID, we did two student showcases a year, a spring and a fall one. We did a virtual [showcase] at the old space [in 2020], and then we didn’t get to do a fall one in 2021 because we were moving.” For 2022 Furgal promises that AirDance will host a student showcase, where students choreograph pieces that they perform. “We haven’t finalized whether that’s gonna be virtual or not. We’re holding off on releasing a date. But it’s looking like it might be possible to do in person. Sometime in May.”
Rather than jump back in with the group’s fully produced aerial extravaganzas, “Probably the first thing that will come back will be cabarets. We have a cabaret we call Garbage Island, which is just variety acts. We do acts, and we invite other artists in the community if they want to come sing a song they wrote or do standup or magicians. Kind of anything goes. That will probably be the first thing we bring back,” Furgal said.
You can keep up with AirDance New Mexico’s current classes and future performances by following them on Facebook or Instagram or by checking out their web page at airdancenm.org.