Friday, February 06, 2009

Interview: The Gyronauts

This feature appears in today's Washington Square News.

It’s showtime in a tiny venue on the Lower East Side, and Megan Heckard is worried about fire — specifically, twirling it around her waist, neck and limbs.

“I had to make a judgment call — you’re worried about your personal safety, but you’re even more concerned for the safety of your audience,” Heckard said.

With its low ceiling and a surface that hasn’t been fireproofed, the space wasn’t ideal, but she went for it and in the end, everyone left unscathed. Risk is perhaps what makes Heckard’s passion so appealing; what sounds like a potentially life-threatening proposition is actually a dynamic, lucrative act.

Heckard, a Steinhardt junior studying music business, is part of the Gyronauts, a hula hoop ensemble. The group is comprised of Heckard, Gallatin senior Natasha Kouri, Tisch senior Sean Stogner, Gallatin junior Daniel Darwin, CAS senior Anna Chazelle and Tisch senior Sarah Freeman, all of whom adopt various stage personas that invoke the glamorous and the futuristic.

In January, the group played a show at Highline Ballroom with NYU band Sea Foam and banjo player and yodeler Curtis Eller. Over a hundred people filled the available tables, leaving stragglers standing in the back. Although Eller has been performing for almost a decade and has toured in Europe, it was the Gyronauts that commanded the greatest turnout.

“We looked out and there was a sea of people,” said Kouri, who performs under the name Glam O’Saurus.

Heckard and Kouri manage the business side of the group. Heckard, who performs as Justina Flash, was able to put her marketing skills to good use in promoting the Highline show.

“We reached a whole new audience,” she said.

Versatility is also a major asset; the group has appeared in burlesque shows, corporate events, parties, religious functions, hospitals and abandoned warehouses.

“What’s great about our performance group is that we get to do a little bit of everything,” Heckard said.

While other local hula hoop groups exist, including Groovehoops and Ladycircus, none have quite embraced the relentless self-promotion and hectic show schedule that has made the Gyronauts so prolific.

“We’re probably the most active hoop troop in the greater New York area,” Heckard said.

Kouri also sells handmade hula hoops. Although she initially sold them in Union Square, the police took exceptional notice of the uncommon item and forced her to relocate.

“You’re allowed to legally sell art in Union Square under the first amendment,” Kouri said. But it was questionable what sort of category her hoops fell under. “It was functional. Art cannot be functional,” she said.

She argues that the opposite is true — that art is inherently functional. Hooping, for the Gyronauts, has become an artistic medium. It’s empowered these individuals, transforming them into spectacular, flame-evading, risk-taking characters.

The members of the group, however, are unsure what form the Gyronauts will take once their seniors graduate. Kouri is thinking about moving to California, which would make the group bi-coastal. Even now there is some tension over who could keep the now-acclaimed moniker and what group composition would allow them to stay true to their roots.

“I keep it in the back of my mind whenever I do an individual event. This could be short-lived,” Heckard said.

But for now, the Gyronauts keep spinning.


MySpace: The Gyronauts

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