At the 2010 Grammy Awards, Pink appeared onstage wearing next to nothing. But even riskier than the potential for a wardrobe malfunction a la Janet Jackson was that the pop star opted to sing her then-little-known ballad “Glitter in the Air” in lieu of one of her big hits. At the end of the song, she was submerged in a water tank, then ascended spinning and spraying rapidly above the crowd, suspended by only a silk rope. Despite potentially mussing the star-studded audience’s flawless hair and makeup, she received a standing ovation from her peers at the Staples Center, including a beaming Sheryl Crow and a teary-eyed Rihanna.
Sharing the stage with Pink that night was the aerial number’s choreographer, Dreya Weber, captured on camera for just a few seconds as she set Pink up for a grand finale that left zero room for error. Covered in gold body paint, she looked calm and collected as she prepared Pink for her transition from ground to air—partly because the singer provided some wordless reassurance.
“If something had gone wrong . . . wow,” Weber says dryly. “Beyoncé, Diddy, everybody is there. But right before she [Pink] went into the air, she leaned back, we locked eyes, and she smiled at me.”
The performance, which most media outlets would later praise as the best of the ceremony, turned out superb. “The crowd went wild!” Weber recalls with a laugh. “But Pink’s first reaction when she saw me backstage was to run up and yell ‘We totally eye-fucked!’ “
Weber is full of entertaining stories—many, sadly, off the record—thanks to her eclectic career. Depending on whom you talk to, she is the sultry aerialist/singer in Teatro ZinZanni’s currently running “Hail Caesar!”, the fitness buff with those abs in the intense P90X® workout-video series, or the aerial-choreography mastermind for tours by major pop stars, including Britney Spears, Katy Perry, and, next month, Taylor Swift.
“Dreya is one of the best things that happened to my career, hands down,” Pink said via e-mail. “She took away my fear of heights, challenged me in a way I didn’t know was possible, and gave me a love of this craft that has shaped my touring experience with the world.”
Weber’s success boils down to her rare ability to combine artistry and physical prowess in her work. She credits her parents: Her mother was an opera singer, her father a Triple-A baseball player in the Detroit Tigers system. During her childhood in Mexico City and Minneapolis, she studied dance, gymnastics, and theater. As a college student, she competed on Hunter College’s gymnastics team, and after graduation spent time in several circus and theater troupes, including New York aerial-performance company AntiGravity, with whom she performed the closing ceremony at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
“I want to always live a creative life,” Weber tells me one day in July as she sinks into a couch with a cappuccino at Caffé Zingaro. We’ve walked here after watching the dancers on Katy Perry’s “California Dreams” tour rehearse an aerial act, designed by Weber, at KeyArena, where the air is thick with the distracting and sickly scent of cotton candy being pumped in. “There is nothing more powerful than human expression, whether that be figuring out aerials for a pop concert or performing in a show like Teatro ZinZanni.”
Her crossover to pop music came in 2002, courtesy of Cher’s “Farewell Tour.” The show’s creator and director, Doriana Sanchez, had seen a tape of Weber performing at the Olympics and sought her expertise to create and teach the dancers a routine that would take the show to a new level. “We wanted to be one of the first tours to present aerials in a rock-‘n’-roll format,” Sanchez says. “I had never seen anything like Dreya’s reel before. Her movements were so beautiful and sexy. She was brilliant to collaborate with, and Cher loved that she added something that made the audience experience more magical.”
Word in the concert-tour industry spread fast, and Weber soon found herself employed as an aerial choreographer for several high-profile artists, facing challenges like creating a routine fit for Britney Spears’ ode to masturbation, “Touch of My Hand,” and calculating the safest way to incorporate 11-foot prop machine guns into Rihanna’s in-air performance.
“An arena show is huge, but for most of the audience in that arena, the stage and artist are going to look very tiny,” she points out. “Video screens help, but incorporating actual life into the space above the stage fills the distance in an entirely different way. No matter how fancy your technology and special effects are, nothing compares to the human body in space.”
Dancers like Shannon Beach, currently touring with Taylor Swift in a show that includes an aerial segment choreographed by Weber, agree. “Sure, you see aerial work at Cirque de Soleil, but it’s still unexpected at a concert,” Beach says. “The audience gasps and screams. It’s such an adrenaline rush to surprise 15,000 people!”
This summer, rather than touring with the dancers she’s trained, Weber has opted to settle in Queen Anne and perform in Teatro ZinZanni’s “Hail Caesar!”, an outrageous three-and-a-half-hour dinner-theater show featuring comedy, cirque, and live music. “The experience is hard to match, whether you’re a performer or audience member,” she enthuses. “Teatro ZinZanni is a weird hybrid, but it works! It’s my favorite format of everything I’ve worked in so far.
“Touring is such a disjointed lifestyle,” she continues. “The schedule is brutal. You never get to see your family or friends.”
Of course, whether or not she opts out of touring and signs on for another Teatro ZinZanni show, Weber can expect pop stars to continue to summon her expertise when they want to pull out all the stops.
“She is the strongest woman I know, with a grace that is unreal,” says Pink. “And she has the best ass in the business. I can’t wait to see what we do next!”