Aerial Dancers in Aeriosa's "Being" Quite Simply Mesmerize / by Aeriosa Dance Society

by Janet Smith on September 16th, 2011 at 1:15 PM

It was quite a scene in an alley parking lot off Granville Street on Thursday night. Dancers on ropes ran, slow-motion, across a seven-storey vertical wall as if it was horizontal. A handful of audience members lay on their backs beneath it all on a tarp. And the sea of usually rowdy Granville Street partiers was reduced to silence as it tried to peer through a fence at what the hell was going on.

What Aeriosa did, in melding animation projected on the wall, original music, and aerial dance on ropes, was quite simply mesmerizing. The troupe’s new multimedia explorations bring a new layer of magic to Julia Taffe’s airborne choreography. Michael Mann’s animated projections of flickering light and spiralling sparks added to the surreal feeling of staring straight up a concrete face at dancers, with the backdrop on this night a black sky with clouds surging over stars.

The work called Being had started inside the Farris Theatre at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week. Moving indoors was another new approach for Aeriosa, and the results were equally hypnotic—once the dancers attached their ropes and harnesses, at least. An opening segment found the dancers huddled under white silk, with somewhat gaudy, pulsating projections warping and bending over the fabric. But things became much more dynamic when they got liftoff, led by Keely Sills in an electric, soaring solo. In the past, audience members have had to crane their necks to see Aeriosa’s performers; in the intimate theatre here, they could watch them closer up, the dancers knotting and winding themselves together, then unfurling in beautiful patterns, or hanging straight upside down, their hands joined. One audience member got an extra close look, when a guide helped him to a spot where he lay down under the spinning figures.

It turns out the troupe’s rock-climbing-inspired style of aerial dance is surprisingly effective even when the performers are not hanging far off the ground, their feet dropping to sweep the floor. Near the end of the indoor segment, a creepy moment came watching a quartet of dancers swing fetally to composer Jordan Nobles’s eerie chorale.

Audience members then followed a guide through a maze of stairways and out a door to the alley. There, they could choose to sit on chairs or lie down to watch the same dancers hurtle like spiders over the tall wall above and into the spotlights and projections. The artists had moved from earth to sky. All the while, Nobles’s hypnotic, percussive score played over a sound system. The highlight of the outdoor segment was that Dali-esque, skewed perspective of watching the performers on the concrete plane of the building: when you sat straight below it, your brain sometimes tricked you into thinking you were looking down on a flat floor.

If Taffe was getting at, as she said in the program notes, ideas about art as it might exist in 10,000 years, the theme wasn’t immediately obvious. What was clear, however, was that she has mastered a language that isn’t showy like the aerial dance of Cirque du Soleil and yet is far removed from the stiff athleticism of rock climbing. And melded with the ethereal projections, Being, like all good art, did suspend time. Even for Granville Street’s 24-hour party people.