Magical Moments in the Circus Arts

Photo by Tim Robison

Photo by Tim Robison

Three years ago, deep in the rain forests of Costa Rica, Alina Ahh Ever had a vision. She happened to be on stilts at the time, performing in a folk festival as a character she calls the Blue Fairy. “I would ask festival goers if they wanted a blessing, then tell them to close their eyes and make a wish,” Alina Ahh explains. “I’d give them a moment, then tap them lightly on their heads with my wand, look them deep in the eyes and say ‘And so it is.’ I had the most beautiful and profound experiences with people, a deep experience of connection.” The vision came to her in a rush. Why not expand beyond a single performer, a single character, and instead offer a group of imaginatively folk-based characters?

Thus was born Alina Ahh’s two-year-old troupe of Asheville-based performers called The Whee Ahh Faerie Kin, a popular and colorful addition to fairs, ceremonies and social occasions throughout Western North Carolina.

“Over and over again we’ve been told that people have experienced magic and healing from the faerie blessings,” Alina Ahh says. “We’ve never done a blessing without several folks in tears.” The troupe — some, like Alina, stilt walkers — perform songs and dances that are based on choreographed routines but that take off into improvisations with audience participation.

Drawing from both folk dances and from circus arts like juggling and acrobatics, the troupe is a regular at the LEAF Festival in Black Mountain and has ventured as far afield as Kentucky for PlayThink Fest, intended to encourage spontaneous creativity. “As one of the few roaming acts, we had a lot of physical and auditory space to play in,” Alina Ahh recalls of PlayFest. “It allowed for a lot of love and joy to flow between us and the participants.” Other venues have included Asheville’s Mountain Oasis Electronic Music summit and Transformus, a kind of Burning Man festival held annually in Western North Carolina.

Alina Ahh (“It’s a two-part first name, like Mary Jo”) learned her stilt walking skills in San Francisco, singing and drumming in parades and protest marches while becoming increasingly drawn to the world of folk ritual based on the mythologies and traditions of world cultures. She helped create an annual “Celebrating The Ancestors Of Many Cultures” ceremony in San Francisco that incorporated acrobats, musicians, dancers, stilt walkers and giant puppets. “I would lead people in ceremonial songs and chants, as well as in circle dances, and have had a powerful interest for a long time in blurring the line between ceremony and performance,” Alina Ahh says. “My passion is to involve everyone in music and dance and ceremony and lessen or eliminate the division of performer and audience.”

The Whee Ahh Faerie Kin’s brilliant palette of sky blue, leafy green and earth browns reflects the troupe members’ deep attachment to environmental health and responsibility. The focus this season is on the traditional four elements of nature — earth, air, fire and water — while last year, the region’s abundant mushroom harvest inspired the troupe to create giant illuminated mushroom caps and each troupe member to adopt and study a particular edible mushroom. Trees have been a recurrent leitmotif, too, along with medicinal plants. “As well as connecting people more deeply to the natural world, we’re also hoping to move more in the direction of sharing our knowledge about the edible, medicinal and useful properties of plants, trees and fungi,” Alina Ahh explains. “I have a dream of taking our troupe on tour up and down the East coast, and including plant walks and gathering edible wild plants and fungi.”

The troupe has started to branch out into other areas of performance art, like puppetry, with the formation by several troupe members of Street Creature, a smaller group that creates and uses giant puppets as a new element of the faerie troupe’s repertoire. Clown acts have also been more visible in the troupe’s performances and provide additional opportunities to interact with the audience. “We’re always looking for ways to include everyone in what we do,” Alina Ahh notes. “I truly believe we are born to sing and dance and celebrate in community with each other, and in reverent and playful connection with the earth. My hope is that our troupe can remind people of how powerful and magical we are.”

In addition to its performance schedule, The Whee Ahh Faerie Kin also offers classes and “playshops” for children and adults, in which participants create their own faerie wands, crowns and masks. For more information about the classes or to schedule an appearance by the troupe, visit faeriekin.com.

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