Tethered to the wildflower fields of Stone Mountain Farm at the base of the northernmost part of the Shawangunk Ridge in Tillson are a series of ropes and nets, harnesses and ladders that help lift those who dare into the air, sailing into an ephemeral New Paltz night. Moving slightly west from the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Café into the center of the centuries-old farmland, there are people literally swinging upside-down, belayed by artist, dancer, conservationist and trapeze coach Kyle Breen. Along with his dear friend and fellow trapezean Amelia Modlin, Breen founded the Wild Arts Collective and has brought the art of flying to the Hudson Valley for all to enjoy.
“We do circus around the country and world,” said Modlin, a former gymnast who is also an art director and production designer for film and television (including an upcoming show for Nickelodeon called NFL Slime Time). “But we’ve been up here for the past two years and just can’t believe how fortunate we are to be able to have a rig [trapeze setup] in such a beautiful place!”
There are women and men of all ages and body types swinging and spinning and falling almost weightlessly into a large mesh net, with the white conglomerate cliffs behind them, Queen Anne’s lace flowers and lightning bugs shimmering like summer snowflakes in the meadows surrounding them and a necklace of clouds above them that their feet seem to push against gently. Whether they are 23 or 73, they are all kids up there, playing and hurling themselves through the air with nothing less than joy as their fuel.
“These are all members of our Collective who come and fly with us every weekend,” explained Modlin, as applause rises up for each person who takes a turn to swing or try various acrobatic twists in the air. It’s a club, but also a school where various expert trapeze coaches are brought in to teach classes. There is also a Beginner Night once a month when anyone who is willing can learn the basic protocol of trapeze art: how to put on a harness, what the various calls are from the trained person belaying and how to do a knee drop and eventually a full swing.
Asked what type of people are called to the Wild Arts Collective trapeze rig, Modlin thought for a second and then looked up at the people perched on scaffolding, swinging or stretching and talking below, and said, “Every kind of person you can imagine. There are definitely people who have backgrounds in gymnastics, dance, ballet, pole-vaulting, rock-climbing; but there are others who have no formal athletic background and are just drawn to this. It’s a very supportive group,” she said, nodding to the group of women cheering a fellow flyer from below.
Max Roll, a 37-year-old actor with a charming British accent, had just finished his first solo swing – or what Modlin refers to as swinging “outside the lines.” “It’s about as close to flying as you can come,” she said, beckoning Roll over to talk about his experience.
“My partner drew me here, kicking and screaming, but I did it because I wanted to impress her,” he said with a smile. “It was completely counterintuitive to anything I’ve ever done. I’ve never considered myself to be an athlete. In fact, I was raised as a musician, so my hands are very important to me, and to put them on a bar and fly through the air was so antithetical to the way I approach things and I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s the most indescribable feeling in the world.”
Roll said that joining the trapeze collective has changed his life, because he’s stretching every day and doing strengthening exercises and spending time with people whom he’s learned to trust and who trust him. “I’ve become stronger than I ever have, fitter, more confident, more open-hearted… When I stay up here, in this old house, I can walk through the living room and Amelia’s walking on her hands and Kyle is doing a chin-up on a doorframe and it’s all quite normal.”
As much as it’s laid-back and friendly and welcoming, Collective member Rachel Malbin is quick to note how highly trained and professional Moldin and Breen are. “You need to be trained and certified to belay and coach people in trapeze arts,” she said. “Not only are they talented trapeze artists and coaches, but I’m astounded at they’ve built here. I found it immediately inviting and welcoming and supportive, and they bring in coaches from all over that help you improve.”
Modlin and Breen met while enrolled in the Trapeze School New York (TSNY.) “We owe so much to TSNY for our training and our growth,” said Modlin. “Circus artists are funny because we’re nomadic by nature and are spread out all over the world, yet we’re a tight-knit group. When you meet another person who does trapeze, there’s an instant connection – there’s not that many of us!”
Malbin, like Roll, fell into the sport by chance when the hedge fund where she works did a teambuilding excursion to the Trapeze School in the City. There she found her passion. “It was pure joy,” she said. “I mean, one of our basic human desires is to be able to fly, and this is what you’re doing up there. It makes me feel strong; it makes me feel like my body is strong and capable. I would encourage everyone to try it. Why not? It’s safe, and you might end up finding the thing in life you’re most passionate about!”
On the website, those who are interested can become Trapeze School members, sign up for a beginner’s class and/or do an entire event. “What an incredible first date,” mused Malbin. “Two people who don’t know each other and get completely thrown out of their comfort zone! It would make for a great bachelorette party or birthday celebration to have everyone learn how to fly.”
Everyone Hudson Valley One interviewed mentioned how present trapeze renders you. “You really empty your mind,” said Breen. “There’s no past, no present; you’re deep inside your body, either listening for the call or feeling that moment when you have to shift to catch or twist.” Malbin described it as “extreme meditation.”
Breen said that for him, it’s about “joy and this feeling of weightlessness.” Yes, he loves to catch people and to teach and to be part of this culture of artists and aerial athletes, but “really likes doing the actual thing.” That said, Breen added, “I love helping people face their fears and empower them to do things that they did not believe they were capable of. I’ve had people in their 70s and 80s do this for the first time. It’s so rewarding.”
Because of their background in the arts, the Wild Art Collective loves to push the circus arts to their creative edge – most recently with a show that was done under the Full Moon at the farm, with a set design based on an underwater kelp forest. “It was a bioluminescent seascape,” explained Modlin. “We had body paint on and UV lights, and it was magical.”
Whether or not you’re ready to be in full body paint and fly through the air under a Full Moon with large sheets of satin behind you, or wanting to just grab the wooden bar and sail into the net, the Wild Art Collective Trapeze School in Tillson will certainly have you looking at things from a different, more elevated and aerial perspective. To learn more about classes, becoming a member, having an event, go to www.wearewildarts.com. If you’re looking to get some visual inspiration, follow them on Instagram @wearewildarts.