Aerial Dance Chicago's Garden of Souls
By Sid Smith
All dance troupes are unique, but Aerial Dance Chicago is particularly so, luxuriating in an aesthetic all its own: circus acrobatics employed for contemporary choreography.
Plucky and irrepressible, they're back for another extended spring engagement at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, and while the quality varies, while they break no new ground in terms of choreographic achievement, they always raise provocative issues about what, exactly, is dance and how its rigors can be borrowed and transformed by other disciplines. This isn't remotely like the plagiarism of dance found in cirques ad infinitum, where modern dance looks and moves are borrowed to dress up big top excitement. Aerial artistic head Chloe Jensen and company are decidedly trying to create their own art, a heady mission, one in which acrobatics are employed not for thrills and daredevil chills but the same beauty, mystery and musical affinity dance has sought for centuries.
The current program features a hefty contingent of premieres and some older works. One decidedly welcome addition is "Frida," by veteran area dance maker Paula Frasz. Frasz offers an intricate, elaborate work that slyly doesn't belabor the aerial aspects, but turns instead on standard choreography that here and there finds its way into a hanging, trapeze-like circle. One early haunting image is pure postmodern dance: a dancer strides with difficulty atop the backs of two others crawling on the floor, the one on their backs supported laboriously by two large stilts. In a piece abstractly about artist Frida Kahlo's struggles and pains, the image is a haunting one, part of a piece that eventually makes rushing use of its corps and nicely plays off its music by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz and Rodrigo Y Gabriela. I'd lop off the last, brief section. The moment earlier where one of the women is hanging alone in the circle seems a better finish for a work about a woman whose artistry and suffering seem so singular.
But "Frida" touches nicely on what Aerial Dance is after, and some of the other works do, too. Jensen's brand new solo, "Gravel Road," is one of the shortest works on the program, but still one of the best, her swinging moves as she hangs suspended by a rope lyrically tied to James Howard's entrancing score.
The other new works are mostly spotty, glimmering with promise while here and there grounded by mediocrity. Karen Fisher Doyle's "Blue" boasts four women in white, with ghostly subtle echoes of spiritual matters, hampered by its lovely Arvo Part selection, an overworked strain in dance circles at this point. I prefer Doyle's older "Invisible Web," a stunning spectacular of two women (Danielle Garrison and Dina Maticiuc) aloft, beautiful in its imagery and evocations of mythic moon goddesses.
Tracy Von Kaenel's "State of Being" has some stylish imagery, especially one segment where the women slide flowingly around the rigging in a smooth, carousel-like circle. But one major new effort, a collective endeavor, "Satya: Finding Truth," with four choreographers, has too many cooks, its elaborate scenario involving lush purple drapes too often a set-up to let the women mark time. Their crawls up along the fabric rarely achieved the same excitement heralded in the score.
A problem that seems to plague the company's works overall is one of inherent attitude: most of the time, in every piece, the stance and looks of the women suggest ponderous awe, portentous seriousness, as if every set-up and bit of scenery is some sort of ominous religious or emotional crisis. Its a mode classic to dance, but a bit dated now, especially when copped so frequently.
Aerial might want to consider expanding its vision, injecting pieces of outright humor or at least puckish whimsy and include musical accompaniment outside the current range, which seems stuck in New Age prettiness and soaring orchestral splendor.
The news of Donna Summer's death hit Thursday, the day I saw this performance, and I couldn't help wondering, what would these women and their distinct acrobatics do with her music?
"Garden of Souls," Aerial's new program, plays through June 10 at Ruth Page, 1016 N. Dearborn St. For tickets: aerialdancechicago.org.
I saw Aerial Dance Chicago's latest performance of UnEarthed, and it was amazing! Something about the way they perform aerial dance is awe inspiring - but it's not just about their feats of strength in the air, it's the way that everything flows together as a dance that makes the performance so fantastic!
Unique and very engaging performance. You can tell this company worked really hard by how well the dancers moved together and how well it all went with the music.
Beautiful and inspiring!
This show is spectacular. The score includes bits of voice that weave in another layer of the story about our world and it's current state. The dancers are strong and expressive and move seamlessly from aerial dance to floor movement. Wonderful - don't miss it!
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"Unearthed " by Aerial Dance Chicago is mesmerizing, thought provoking and beautifully executed.