What does it feel like to dance in the air? An audience tends to see the planned visual effect and project its own desires and expectations upon the action. It appears fun, free, and exciting. In execution, it is careful, technical, and precise. These quality sets are not mutually exclusive, but audiences generally perceive more of the former and less of the latter. During the Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance 30th anniversary retrospective April 27-29, 2018, at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder, Colorado, artists made the extremely difficult look easy. (Note that if you would like to find out how it feels, Frequent Flyers offers many accessible classes!)
Aerial dance differs from strictly ground-based dance in many ways– take the added spatial dimension accessed through anti-gravity for one– but among the most important for a new viewer to appreciate is the necessary use of various apparatus. Safely setting up the ceiling-supported trapezes, lyra, silks and more takes time and double checking. Unless the performance space is a dedicated aerial studio, the audience will spend time simply waiting. That is the nature of the beast and it is worth the wait.
The first act, a selection of works from the company’s considerable repertoire, included aural introductions by the choreographers during setup. This was informative as well as diverting. While some silence during setup (later in the program) helpfully emphasizes the seriousness of the foundation of the aerial endeavor, there were those in the audience that would have appreciated musical accompaniment.
Each piece has its own delights. Quite enjoyable were the quiet athleticism of Soulever, the knowing smiles of In The Mood, the symbolism and pathos of Micro-Waves, and the ingenious people-hiding costumes and stilt work of A Quadrille of Sorts. The Origins of Now is perhaps the most thoroughly successful in its artistic, physical, and metaphorical representation of human experience (specifically the vicissitudes of a relationship).
The evening’s performers interacted more than they flew solo. The layers of complexity of aerial dance increase as more than one dancer moves not only within the context of her swinging ladder trapeze (for example) but in concert with (or in opposition to) her fellows. As the trapeze supports and enables a dancer, so do the dancers facilitate each other’s climbs, hangs, and controlled drops, sharing the strength and positions of their bodies.
A performer might be swooping upside down, swan-like, back and forth across the stage, her hair brushing the floor as she dangles from another performer’s hooked foot. Or she might step lightly up her fellow’s knees and shoulders in order to alight further up the swaying vertical silks. Experienced dancers can slip swiftly UP a 30-foot cord by strategically wrapping portions of it around arms, wrists, ankles or waist.
Act two, a collaboration with the dynamic “Pop Baroque” electric string quartet Spinphony, showcased new works choreographed by more recent additions to the company. Pieces ranged in tone from lighthearted tongue-in-cheek to glowing, almost sinister grand showmanship. There was so much going on in the final piece that audience members hardly knew where to look, which was perhaps the point, but somewhat shortchanges the impressive work of individual artists. It’s not a bad thing, however, to have a surfeit of talent! Frequent Flyers continues to be a relevant and rousing member of the Front Range arts family.
Jane E. Werle: As an infant Jane E. Werle, unable to protest, was removed from Colorado by her well-meaning parents. In 2004 she was able to rectify this error when she relocated from Massachusetts to Boulder for graduate school. One M.F.A. and a husband later, Jane works to further the arts in the Front Range as a writer/editor and dance enthusiast (no-shame, first-on-the-floor amateur– despite some training– dancer). Jane is also a longtime nanny and a visual artist, taking one of these very seriously and the other as a growth experience. Every child she’s cared for has experienced some form of the SDP: Spontaneous Dance Party.