Performances of wonder, high-flying dance at ADF

Jul. 07, 2013 @ 05:35 PM

During its fourth week, June 30-July 6, the American Dance Festival presented work by Israeli-born Lee Sher and Saar Harari and Argentina’s Brenda Angiel.

“Grass and Jackals”
Performed by LeeSaar The Company at Reynolds Industries Theater, June 30-July 2, this ADF-commissioned world premiered by Lee Sher and Saar Harari, commands attention. Who are these movers? A tribe of women? Pride of lions? Naomi Luppescu’s costumes suggest both human and animal. Dancers wear black, shiny, full-body leotards and their eyebrows stand out thanks to thick black paint. They sit in groups and gaze into the distance but never radiate fear, only a sense of calm. They express confidence and strength as they take warrior stances, legs wide, knees bent. They maintain balance as they stand on one foot and extend the other upward as they lean to one side.
They also direct energy outward and inward. One dancer looks like a fish out of water as she undulates her body to flop along the floor. Another, who runs and runs with wide leaping steps in a big circle, communicates exuberance and freedom. At other times, they signal energies inside their bodies. Their torsos and hands tremble. Another dancer’s jiggling body suggests a pot of boiling spaghetti.
Yes, these are strange sights that add interest and also reflect the choreographers’ and dancers’ training in Gaga, a movement language created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. This training enables them to extend their limbs in two different directions at once or to an extreme degree and to move in other unique ways as they explore their body systems, imaginations and animal nature. At one point, a dancer, rocking slowly on her back, her arms and legs lifted and spread wide, in a soft, relaxed way looks like a puppy waiting for her tummy to be rubbed.
The ending prompts a feeling of sheer wonder as, after a moment of darkness, the lights come up to reveal ceiling-to-floor strands of silver Mylar that suggest curtains of rain. As though to become one with this element, a dancer takes off her black costume to reveal a silver one.

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“Air Condition”

An ADF regular since the 1990s, Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company once again goes where most modern dance companies don’t tread – to the space above the stage. This time, at Durham Performing Arts Center, July 5-July 6, they repeat a program, “Air Condition,” performed in 2005 at ADF. Or did they? Some of the segments seemed very familiar such as the opening one that begins with suspended dancers upside-down and another segment in which we see only the legs of three dancers that appear below the curtain that runs across the top of the stage.
At other times, it seems as though graphics and other effects could have been added as part of Angiel’s ever-evolving artistry. Sometimes this is used to great effect as when film footage of high-flying dancers is combined with live performers to create a flower image as well as other kaleidoscopic effects.
The order of these mostly unrelated segments seems to follow a progression of the development of Angiel’s work over the years. It begins with dancers “playing” off a wall, moving horizontally across it, thanks to their flying rigging, so that we see the tops of their heads and have the sensation of looking down on the dance.
The more interesting and intricate takes on tango come later in the program. The duet between a man and a woman, tethered at the waist to a bungee chord, includes some gravity-defying moves never seen in traditional tango, such as when she slides, on her knees, down the extended leg of her partner.
While these tango segments don’t stand out in memories of the work performed in 2005, they do seem familiar as part of Angiel’s 2010 tango extravaganza, “8CHO,” presented at ADF in 2010. Or perhaps these tango numbers were part of the original “Air Condition” and Angiel chose to include these numbers in “8CHO.” This is when a film library would come in handy.