I will be the first to admit that you could fit all I know about dance into a thimble and still have room for your thumb. Even so I’ve always been a fan, in many ways wishing I had half the grace dancers possess. I also am a huge fan of Gene Kelly and “Singing in the Rain” is one of my top movies of all time. However I can’t say that I go out of my way to see live performances of dance like I do of music and theatre. Which I think is an extension of my first statement. I just don’t get dance beyond admiring the beauty of movement. I’d like to think I’m a perceptive fellow, but when I’m watching dance I find myself thinking, “Wow, that is amazing!” I don’t feel like I take it to that next level and appreciate what the overall story or message that is being delivered. Sometime I feel pretty confident in my interpretation, but it tends to be in realms I already feel pretty comfortable. I mean I’ve been listening to Phish for close to twenty years now, so if I can’t pick up the overarching theme of tension and release, then I’m a moron. Along the same lines, I can see how the movements enhance and reflect the action of a story that I already know, like Romeo and Juliet. This is all to say that I went out with the family Saturday night to see a friend perform with Aerial Dance Chicago in Aerial Works Raw. I realize as I write this how far out of my depth I truly am.
The performance featured two sets of performances with a brief intermission. When the company advertised that it was an intimate setting, they weren’t kidding. The audience was only three rows deep and the dancers were often right to the edge of the performance space. Short of being on the stage one couldn’t be closer. I could hear the dancers breathing from time to time, which really demonstrated how hard they were working. It reminded me of being at a soccer game and being able to smell the grass and feel the ground shake as the players rumbled nearby. In a theatrical setting this closeness normally would foster a closer connection to the performers, but because of the nature of Aerial Dance that isn’t quite the case. The key aspect of the company is that much of the dancing takes place in the air by virtue of silk ropes, cables and swings. If had to guess, I would say that the dancers were at the very least five to twenty feet off the ground at any given time. The simple act of pulling themselves up was amazing. The definition in the dancers’ back and shoulders was power on display. All of the other maneuvers were equally jaw-dropping. I was truly out of my dept when there was more than just the aerial component going on during a piece. One of the dancers would be in air and the other dancers would be performing other movements, sometimes in tandem with the aerial person, sometimes almost independently. I wasn’t sure how to view this, literally and figuratively. I was drawn to the performer on the ropes, but felt like I was limiting my experience. Perhaps that dichotomy was intentional, but ultimately I found it more distracting than anything else.
The three solos, “For You”, “Gravel Road” and “Unbound”, and one of the duets, “On the Rise”, were simply stunning. My wife made the comment during “For You” that the dancer had an incredible body. I agreed a little too quickly for my wife’s tastes, but I wasn’t saying it like THAT…really! Watching these women perform I couldn’t help but think of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
It was the athletic strength and grace that was the star of show. Even if dance isn’t your thing, it would be impossible to leave this show and not be impressed, if not inspired. Much like a great athletic performance, the power of the dancer’s movements leaves me without words. It’s like trying to describe Tiger Wood’s golf swing. I just can’t do it justice. The best thing I can recommend is that you go and check it out yourself when they perform in the Spring.