It's a bright and cold Friday afternoon, and inside Northern Arizona University’s Prochnow Auditorium, the stage is illuminated with a hypnotic fuchsia hue.

Beside the soundboard, Joanie Garcia looks on.

“It's a bit dark,” she says. “But I love the way the dancer's bodies are lit. Just gorgeous.”

For the past five Februaries, Momentum Aerial Arts has worked with performers, both regional and local, to ignite a spark in the hearts of onlookers at the Hungry Hearts Cabaret & Love Advice Show. Aerial arts, burlesque routines, modern dance from CaZo Dance Company of Phoenix and a panel of qualified sex-perts, ready to answer R-rated inquiries, will delight audiences when the show returns this weekend. ­

Dr. Janet Morrison, a registered nurse and clinical sex therapist, is back after a red-hot reception in previous years. She focuses largely on healthy intimacy, good consent and mutual pleasure.

“It's time to break the stigma surrounding pleasure,” Morrison says.

Additionally, a new panelist joins the Love Advice team this year: Stephanie Washington, who has worked in adult shops and is a body positive birth doula, familiar with all stages of life and pregnancy.

“I want to allow the men and women in my life to be open about the subjects of sex and intimacy,” she says.

Ray Bonk also returns to talk about life, gender and the therapeutic benefits of the arts.

Garcia, the creative director of Momentum, says she is proud to see how much the production has grown, evolved and expanded since it began five years ago. At Hungry Hearts’ inception, the series of sideshow-like performances was held at The Green Room: a popular, but limiting, downtown music venue. Since partnering with SUN Entertainment in 2018, the Cabaret has taken place on NAU’s campus, with access to a myriad of theatrical resources.

“I feel lucky to have partnered with NAU because they're better for our dancers,” Garcia says. “Plus, they have tech staff, curtains and other benefits that downtown bars and other venues can't really provide in terms of a dance production.”

Additionally, she says the styles and techniques of the featured artists have become more clearly defined.

“We try to raise the bar every year and try to create new work. We're really excited to have an incredible variety of performers this year, some of which have worldwide renown.”

Among the performers joining the troupe this year is 24-year-old Brandon Scott, an aerial artist specializing in silks and ropes. Bearing the title of U.S. Aerial Champion and a wealth of experience from competitions in New York City and Salt Lake City, Scott's routine is one viewers will not want to miss. Performances will also include a lyra routine by Caroline Digness, a traveling aerial performer and professional teacher; a strip trapeze performance by Dawn Tucker of Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival; and performances by Laurel Combs, Liz Gehret, Beth Blake, Morgan Louvier and Heather Elliott, all Momentum Aerial instructors and full-time Flagstaff residents.

Social awareness and advocacy is at the center of great relationships and Hungry Hearts Cabaret is no exception. In previous years, the production has partnered with One Billion Rising in an effort to bring awareness to sexual violence and end it once and for all. This year, a sex toy raffle will take place, benefiting Planned Parenthood and Victim Witness Services, a local nonprofit that helps Coconino County citizens to heal from intimate partner violence and provides resources for survivors of crime.

Whether single, partnered or somewhere in-between, Hungry Hearts is a production that is sure to whet everyone's romantic appetites and inspire curiosity and confidence in equal measure.

Hungry Hearts Cabaret & Love Advice Show will be held at Prochnow Auditorium, 317 W. Dupont Ave., on Saturday, Feb. 9. The 18+ show is free to NAU students with ID, $15 for the general public. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the fun begins at 8 p.m. Visit the event on Facebook for more information.

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