Thursday, August 11, 2005

Report from ADF: Dancer on a String/Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company

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June 30, 2005

Forget eye-candy. It’s more like air-candy during Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company’s performance of Air Condition at the American Dance Festival. “Candy” is the operative word here—Brazilian choreographer Angiel delivered sweet thrills along with some empty choreographic calories. Each dance started out with an eye-opening wallop and then petered out. Still, Angiel’s ten fearless dancers perched, suspended, flew, walked on walls, and hung upside down with admirable confidence.

Air-Lines, held the most promise. Five dancers, suspended by short cables, appeared pinned against a black back wall like butterfly specimens. The scene wreaked havoc on our perception; it was as if the audience was looking down on the dance. Video projections of white light encapsulated each dancer in separate cocoons that expanded and contracted along with their shifting shape. Gradually the novelty of the new view wore off and I tired of looking at the tops of heads and their backs. The projections grew overly busy, the elevator music score droned in the background, and the harsh frontal lighting flattened the dancers like bugs on a windshield. Air-Lines disintegrated into equal parts June Taylor Dancers and the Hollywood Squares.

Other glimpses of sky-drama delighted throughout. Air Part attached Leonardo Haedo’s right arm directly into the cable in a clever extension of the body. Haedo hovered just above the surface of the floor in a stunning suspension. In the “Fourth Part” (of Air Part), a trio of angry red-dressed women used the men as a human staircase to the air space. Cristina Tziouras’s free-fall solo delivered the one, utterly delicious, illusion of the evening. David Ferri’s strong directional white side-lighting rendered Tziouras finally untethered. Ana Armas and Pablo Carrizo’s inverted tango in Air Force proved amusing. Enough with "Air" in the titles please.

Unfortunately, moments do not make a dance. Angiel’s choreography plays out more like sketches than complete dances. The visual punch that launched each of these works never reached a satisfying development. Aerial dance also poses some aesthetic concerns and Angiel crashes full-throttle into a few of them. The cables are ugly, clunky, and more importantly, completely visible. The heavy black robes that extend from the dancers’ backs make them look like macabre puppets. The metal cables attached to the front of the dancers’ bodies work more like an umbilicus, but lend an industrial feel. The illusion of flight, if any, feels limp.

Sure, there are affordances to being airborne in terms of playing with multiple views of the body and shifting perspectives. The territory also comes with major restrictions. There’s the plain fact that the dancers are always attached to a leash. Strangely, they look like a captive lot. Doesn’t that negate the freedom intrinsic to flight?

Judging from the audience’s enthusiasm they did not share my concerns.