The Spectacular Aerial Acrobatics of Lyra - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Spectacular Aerial Acrobatics of Lyra

The Spectacular Aerial Acrobatics of Lyra

By Eugene S. Robinson

Fire dancing.
SourceCourtesy of Anna Yanushkevich


Because there are more ways of getting high than you ever would have guessed.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Standing in front of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in San Jose, California, the kids, my kids, who had previously been excited at the prospect of seeing said circus, were sobbing. Animal rights activists were screaming about the mistreatment of elephants, complete with video, and so it was that the clearinghouse for the wild and death-defying died.

But circus acts like Cirque du Soleil, minus elephants and tigers, played to our need for wide-eyed wonder, and within that? All kinds of brazen-assed acrobatic stuff. That the lyra — a suspended hoop, which is part trapeze and all difficult — comes into play here is not that surprising. But it is surprising not for finding its way into the newer iterations of the circus, but by being so quickly snatched up by amateurs who one day decided to just do it.

And when fire dancing got boring? As hard as that might be to imagine, there was no way to go but up.

“Pretty much,” says Russian-born, California-residing aerialist Anna Yanushkevich. The 31-year-old, who started competing in dance festivals and performing when she was in middle school — belly dancing and ballet mostly — runs an indie circus, but started lyra outside of that … well, just because. Yanushkevich moved to California with her brother, mother and grandparents on account of her brother’s blindness. Soviet medicine was lacking and Stanford was great, so they … moved.


Bored with dance, Yanushkevich started literally playing with fire. Or dancing with it, rather. And when she grew bored with fire dancing? There was no way to go but up: Six or seven years ago, Yanushkevich “started doing things in the air.” She started with silks, “the gateway drug to the circus,” as she puts it. Next, she tried, and stuck with, lyra and hammock because they “seem like apparatuses you can be the most expressive with.” 

In a pole dance and aerial studio in Redwood City, California, with lyra hoops dangling at different heights from the rafters, Yanushkevich touts the benefits of lyra while teaching it. She also uses it in both circus and theater venues. “My passion is creating a whole evening, a whole experience for the audience,” she says.

“It’s also a great workout,” says Cola Claret, an aerial hoop and static trapeze artist. “You’re producing artwork through your exertion.”


Lyra can be performed just about anywhere you can hang it. 

Source Courtesy of Anna Yanushkevich

Lyra can be done just about anywhere you can hang the hoop, which is roughly the size of an overly large Hula-Hoop and made of metal and wrapped in grip tape. Because there’s usually a shortage of affordable venues to perform in, a lot of Yanushkevich’s lyra stuff is first seen in bars and clubs — which are “not bad places to test out ideas,” she notes. With an audience of “anyone and everyone,” there are no expectations. And if they don’t like what she’s showing them? “You will know almost immediately,” she says.

Yanushkevich now produces aerial shows on everything from mental health issues — suicide, insanity and depression — to the decidedly darker occult. “I like to put together shows that are both beautiful technically and macabre. Things that touch on subject matter people don’t normally want to discuss. I love mixing the pretty and the ugly parts of life. When done right, the contrast usually complements both and makes you see things in a new light.”

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