About the Company
The Canopy Studio Repertory Company, directed by Melissa Roberts, is comprised of 19 performance artists who form the core of our teaching and performing programs. These aerialists have trained in circus and dance arts through classes at Canopy Studio, in addition to participating in ongoing residential training programs with two former members of Cirque du Soliel. Members of our company have performed at Lincoln Center in New York City, California, Jamaica and The Charlotte Dance Festival in North Carolina, among other places.
Our professionalism, creativity, and masterful performance quality makes the company’s performances among the most unique and striking shows in the Southeast. As dancers take their movements into the air, audience members are too lifted by the freedom and grace that flying represents.
Mazie Bowen has been with Canopy since 2002. She combines her love for dance, fitness and swinging through the air through Adult Trapeze instruction and her involvement in Repertory. She works primarily on dance trapeze and various metal apparatus. When not at Canopy, Mazie is the Public Service Coordinator for the Special Collections Libraries at the University of Georgia. She lives in Watkinsville with her husband, two boys and a very large cat.
Annette Byrd has been a member of the Canopy Repertory Company since 2007. Aerial silks are her specialty but she loves exploring on invented apparatus and bungee. Annette made her directorial debut in 2012 with an aerial version of the Wizard of Oz. She began teaching aerial silks in 2009. She also has 12 years of ballroom dance experience and competed in the amateur Dance Sport Southeast Regionals in 2003 and Athens Got Talent in 2010.
Ann Woodruff Conley
Ann Woodruff-Conley is the outreach and children’s programming coordinator at Canopy Studio and member of the Repertory Company. She began taking trapeze classes in 2000 with Susan Murphy and continues to travel the path into aerial dance as a teacher, student, and performer. Ann has a degree in Special Education form the University of Georgia and was a Middle School Special Education teacher for several years. In addition to spending lots of time at Canopy, she has worked as a teacher with AVPDA and as a play facilitator with Trapeze Therapy. Ann brings her great love for children with disabilities into Canopy’s outreach program, and teaches private lessons and inclusive classes for these individuals. Ann typically performs on single point trapeze, pole, duo lyra, and swinging cube. Ann‘s partners support her desire to swing very high and they always push one another to invent new tricks.
Rabun Dekle began her aerial career studying under Susan Murphy when Canopy opened in 2001. A year later Rabun joined the Repertory Company and has never stopped exploring. Training mostly at Canopy, Nimble Arts, and LEAP she works on all things trapeze (dance, circus, flying, swinging), as well as aerial fabrics, hula hoops, and invented equipment. Rabun teaches mostly adult trapeze classes at Canopy. Studying dance and movement arts from the age of 3, Rabun loves teaching others how to dance in the air and make the movement their own. She has served Canopy Studio in multiple capacities since its creation – student, performer, teacher, board member, and board president. Outside of CanopyRabun is a pharmacist and runs Hodgson’s Pharmacy. With husband Drew, she is brining up her own aspiring trapeze artist – their daughter Tyus. Rabun‘s other hobbies include snow skiing, swimming, running, reading, sewing, traveling, and watching her daughter dive.
Megan has been a gymnast her entire life and is still very actively involved in the sport. Currently she works full time for Athens Clarke County as the Program Leader for gymnastics. In 2008 Megan and a two of her co-workers decided to try out a Canopy class for a fun workout. Since that moment she was hooked! Finally something that combined strength and performance together flawlessly! After taking classes for several years, Megan started combining her love of trapeze with her love of kids. Megan teaches the Pre-K trapeze class and her class motto: “ we have a lot of fun while getting rid of some energy and getting strong!” Megan’s loves to perform on the circus bar with her aerial partner Amber, but enjoys exploring on all the equipment and learning from everyone. Megan has also recently taken her love for aerials even higher by starting flying trapeze at Leap Trapeze!
Mary Jessica Hammes
Mary Jessica Hammes grew up in Athens, Ga., and graduated from UGA with degrees in journalism and French—never dreaming she’d take up aerial dance in the near future! After seeing an ad for classes and feeling spontaneous, she began studying trapeze with Canopy founder Susan Murphy in 2000. When Canopy opened in 2002, Mary Jessica was a member of the founding repertory company who taught the first classes and performed in shows. Since then, she has had the extreme good fortune of training multiple times with Serenity and Elsie Smith (Cirque du Soleil alumnae and founders of the New England Center for Circus Arts); the cast of Girls on Trapeze; Rain Anya and Sarah Holmes (Paper Doll Militia); aerialist Aimeé Hancock (NECCA, Cirque Eloize); and of course continued study with her first mentor, Susan Murphy. MJ loves to teach both adults and children and counts performing with her friends among her most joyful experiences. When she’s not in the air, she’s an assistant preschool teacher, freelance writer and editor, knitter, gardener, and general crafter. She attempts to spend as much as time as possible with her husband, son, and enormous cat.
Amber discovered the joys of Canopy Studio in 2008. She had just returned to Athens for graduate school in 2007 and found Canopy while searching for a fun, creative and athletic outlet. She began her journey as a student and quickly realized that Canopy felt like her home away from home. She began volunteering as a rigger for shows and eventually joined the board where she currently serves as treasurer. Amber joined the repertory company in the summer of 2013. She has taught children’s classes as well as adult classes and aerial conditioning. When she isn’t spending time in the studio Amber is an assistant professor at Georgia Gwinnett College in the school of education. A Gwinnett County native she has been a career educator serving as a high school physics teacher and also worked at the Clarke County School district in administration before finishing her PhD at the University of Georgia in Science Education. Amber currently resides in Athens but will be relocating to Forsyth County with her fiancé Jon. While she may not always be an Athens resident she will always be a Bulldog at heart, and can still be found hanging, swinging, and flying around the studio with her Canopy family.
Carlynn Corley Kenna
Carlynn Corley Kenna, a member of the Rep Company since 2003, has performed lyra, silks, single point trapeze, bungee, acro balance, metal, vertical pole, and static line wall dance. Poi is her newest frontier! Carlynn blended her professional role as an occupational therapist with her passion for aerial performance and opened Trapeze Therapy, LLC in 2012 providing skilled therapy services to children with special needs. Carlynn also owns Athens Vertical Pole Dance Academy where she has been promoting the art of pole performance and pole fitness since 2010. Most of all, Carlynn enjoys the creative process in constructively coaching students to achieve performance goals. Her daughter, Marilyn, is a constant source of inspiration!
Chris Knightes has been a part of Canopy since March 2003. He started recreational gymnastics when he was 4 and coached recreational and competitive gymnastics while in New Jersey before moving to Georgia. He has been a member of Canopy’s repertory company since May 2005. While at Canopy, he has instructed dance trapeze and fabrics for both adults and kids, and is currently one of the advanced fabrics instructors. Chris has studied and performed on dance trapeze, silks, straps, lyra, rope, and metal cube. Chris was one of the original instructors of dance and circus trapeze and fabrics at D’AIR Studio in Atlanta, and performed with D’AIR in their first company performance, and has trained at the New England Center for Circus Arts.
Allyson Mann moved to Athens for grad school and, like a lot of people, never left. She has always enjoyed exercising—ultimate frisbee, yoga, kickboxing—but had trouble sticking with anything for more than two years. In 2003 that changed when she discovered Canopy and the joy of defying gravity. By day she works as an editor, and by night she feeds her aerial addiction by teaching silks and trapeze. She also fulfills her circus dreams by studying flying trapeze at Leap, where she is known to hoard the twisty belt and leave chalk handprints on her fellow flyers. She shares her home with an assortment of rescued furbabies: Sadie Lou Hammersmith, canine levitator and Head Dishcleaner; Zoe Kensington-Hightower, feline biscuit maker and Professional Diva; and StellaLuna Marylebone, feline alarm clock and Late-Night Tormentor of Frogs.
James has been part of the Canopy Family since 2009. He has great appreciation for how Canopy provides to people of all ages and abilities opportunity for self-expression, play, overcoming challenges, building strength, and even providing physical and emotional therapy. As an instructor for the Boy’s Mixed Level Trapeze Class, he enjoys the balancing act between aerial instruction and all-out, crazy, wild play time. Canopy is not the only place where James celebrates his love of all things aerial, as in his spare time he is an avid bird-watcher and dragonfly-watcher, and one of his favorite birds is the acrobatic Northern Harrier, which has the scientific name Circus cyaneus.
Lindy Pals has studied aerial dance at Canopy Studios since its opening. She thanks some amazing teachers: Susan Murphy, Elsie and Serenity Smith, Nicole Mermans, and repertory dancers (who always eagerly share). Lindy has enjoyed working with solo dance trapeze, duo dance trapeze, solo aerial chair, and her favorite – aerial structures in a trio (spinning or flying cube). By day, Lindy is a middle school librarian where she daily observes children’s desperate desire for movement. She’s thankful to Canopy for providing a well-needed, creative outlet for so many community kids.
Lauren Puls has been delighted to consider Canopy her home away from home since 2002. She finds the dancing to be joyous and fascinating, and also considers herself a “knot nerd,” and enjoys exploring the ins and outs of rigging, as well as building equipment by hand. She is an avid collector of circus antiques and oddball costumes and props, and often performs “in cognate.” When she is not in the air, she is often documenting her experiences with her beloved camera. When not at Canopy, she works in landscaping and property management/maintenance. She is happy to get her hands dirty, but also has a degree in psychology, and has worked in the field of mental health. She is the proud mom to a dog and an elderly snake. She loves being part of the Athens community and is proud to connect with Athens through her work at Canopy.
Julie Phillips teaches trapeze, fabrics and aerial yoga classes at Canopy. In her “day” job, she’s a certified yoga teacher and Yamuna Body Rolling practitioner — a therapeutic body work that’s a cross between yoga and massage — at Studio in Athens, under the guidance of her mentor Lauren O’Grady. She first began trapeze classes in 2000, when Canopy founder (and her first mentor) Susan Murphy was teaching community classes in UGA’s dance department. Over the years, she’s performed on circus and dance trapeze, silks, sling, Spanish web and a variety of metal apparatus, and loves the opportunity Canopy allows in exploring and inventing aerial work. More than that, she finds the community that exists within Canopy a family away from her home in Virginia, and loves teaching and sharing aerial arts with students as much as she enjoys performing. She lives in Watkinsville with her husband, composer and classical musician Kyle Dawkins, of the Georgia Guitar Quartet and Revien, and their two delightful cats.
Lauren Richards started flying at Canopy in December of 2007 at the encouragement of a friend. With a background in dance, gymnastics, and theatre, aerial training and performance is the perfect marriage for the little girl within, who used to ‘play’ with imaginary mythical creatures that could fly. An oncology social worker by day, Lauren finds being in the air enormously therapeutic, a way of releasing all the heaviness of the professional world into the sky (literally and figuratively). Lauren teaches beginner level adults and finds the joy her students experience from flying as pure as her own when she’s in the air. When not flying/teaching or at the hospital, Lauren likes to eat yummy food, be with friends and family, nourish her soul with worship, and laugh out loud.
Melissa Roberts is the Executive Director of Canopy Studio. She primarily teaches adult, teen and kids’ dance trapeze, fabrics, lyra and partner work. She has over 30 years of movement training, beginning with gymnastics and dance at the age of 4. Under the mentorship of aerial dance pioneer, Susan Murphy (now with The Marsh Studio), Melissa learned the fine beauty of teaching aerial dance that merges the physicality of circus with the expressive depth of modern dance. Equally formative, alongside her longtime aerial collaborator, Nicole Mermans (The D’air Project), she began to explore custom equipment and expand the studio’s penchant for dancing on metal objects. Thus, when Melissa took over the directorship reigns in 2009, it was no surprise that Canopy’s Repertory Company shows began to see more and more aerial cubes, triangles, chains, ladders and even upsidedown stars!
Melissa’s twelve years of teaching aerials have been influenced greatly by longtime training with Elsie and Serenity Smith (formerly of Cirque du Soleil and founders of the New England Center for Circus Arts). She is also greatly inspired by training with her friends and colleagues Rain Anya and Sarah Holmes (Paper Doll Militia), Amy Powell (Chattanooga Aerials) and aerialist Aimee Hancock (NECCA, Cirque Eloize). She continues to further her training and teaching techniques in several national and international schools, her favorites being Cirque School LA, Aloft in Chicago, The Circus Space in NY and private gyms in Montreal. She performs and teaches in several venues in the Southeast, but she is happiest collaborating with dancers and musicians in the local Athens community.
As the studio director, she is committed first and foremost to teaching and outreach that reflects Canopy’s mission. Her first passion is to teach and inspire others to experience the transformative power of circus arts. Additionally, she loves to create art with the Canopy Repertory Company and perform with her professional trio, Aerial Trifecta. When not directing or teaching at Canopy, Melissa can be found doing something adventurous with her husband and two sons. She enjoys bikram yoga, trail running, traveling and exploring cemeteries.
Katie Schmidt has been with Canopy since 2002, when the studio was brand new and she was only 11. She had been doing gymnastics prior to studying trapeze and was hooked from the moment she got up in the air. Katie trained under and then began shadowing Susan Murphy when she started teaching classes at Canopy. As soon as she graduated from high school, Nichole Mermans and Melissa Roberts sent her to study at the New England Center for the Circus Arts in Vermont. At NECCA she did a 9 month intensive circus program where she was trained by former Cirque Du Soliel performers. She tried a variety of circus equipment and ended up majoring in wire walking and minoring in duo tippy lyra. In 2012 Katie returned to Canopy Studio to teach and be part of the Repertory Company. In August 2013 she became the teen and young adult coordinator, a brand new position at Canopy. When not dancing in the air, Katie enjoys a good meal of tacos, burritos or guacamole from any one of the many fine establishments within close proximity of the studio.
April Skelton has been performing as an aerialist since 2005, and has been a student, and later, teacher of aerial arts since beginning her own training at Canopy Studio in 2004. She has studied under Fred Deb’, Sarah Poole, Elsie Smith, Serenity Smith Forchion, Rain Anya, Terry Sendgraff, members of Frequent Flyers, and her mentor Susan Murphy, at whose Marsh Studio April has also taught. April performs on aerial silks, bungee harness, invented apparatus, circus trapeze, and lyra, but her best work is on the dance trapeze, which Canopy is well known for. April’s fantasies of rock and roll stardom were writ large in her recently choreographed work for the entire Repertory Company, a multi-part aerial interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” on 16 dance trapezes.
Dana Skelton is originally from Roswell, GA. She has been with Canopy since 2002 as a student, teacher and performer on trapeze, fabric, and bungee. Her time in the studio and on stage is now more centered on floorwork including the arts of hoopdance, poi, and bellydance. Dana loves the outdoors, and spends her free time hiking, drumming, gardening, and doing archery. She works for Georgia River Network, an environmental non-profit that protects rivers. She lives with her two cats.
When she’s not wrangling 4-year-olds at Barrow Elementary School, Melissa Wilson can generally be found either in the air or on the ground at Canopy, where she joined the Repertory Company in 2008. Melissa has performed on dance trapeze, bungees, Spanish Web and various invented metal equipment, and with her frequent-partner Carlynn Kenna, has astounded Canopy audiences with incredible ground-based acrobatics as well. Melissa came to Canopy as a student in 2003 where she studied with Canopy founder Susan Murphy, who became both her friend and mentor. Outside the studio Melissa finds her life enriched to overflowing by her faith, her close relationships with family and friends, her precious dog Boo, and days on the river. This, along with her love and commitment to all children have enabled her to have an abundantly full life.
Allison Workman moved to Athens from the Pacific Northwest on somewhat of a whim in 1991. In 2000 she finally found what she was looking for when she swung on a trapeze for the first time. Allison has been with Canopy from its inception as a student, teacher and performer. The birth of her son in 2006 grounded her in many ways and led her to discover the joy of Hoopdance and the Zen of hoop-making as well as teaching and playing with young children and babies. She has since found her way back into the air and swinging is what she loves most. When on the ground she derives tremendous satisfaction from helping other people get organized and loves her non-aerial work as a Well-Organized Woman. Allison eventually graduated from UGA with a degree in French, and if it weren’t for Canopy she’d find a way to live in France. Currently, however, she lives in Danielsville, GA with her young hockey-playing son, hockey-devotee computer wizard husband and cats.