Great Leaps

The word gymnastics tends to bring to mind images of terrycloth headbands, Reagan-era leotards, and Olympic medals. While it is a sport that requires a great amount of athleticism, there is also a performance aspect of gymnastics that is often overlooked in the pining for Olympic glory. Conceived in 1997 as a novel performance event, Aeros combines the athletic ability of gymnastics with the aesthetics of dance. The Aeros company is made up of members of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation. The pieces are choreographed and directed by Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons, and Moses Pendleton, each a well known name in the dance world. The resulting mixture is a highly enthralling and entertaining show that is designed for families and actually is appropriate for all ages. The opening dance, “Iconography,” has sixteen bodies lying on the stage in rows and columns of four. One body stands, walking up and down, back and forth through the aisles created by the prostrate bodies. The figures on the floor sit up, lie down, and turn to the side, all in perfect unison. They are accompanied by a color changing scrim and trance music. The first standing body joins the others in formation while another stands up and begins to walk. The piece explores the body as a form and a shape, rather than as part of a human being.

A few other pieces, “Dresses” and “Handstands” also depict the body as a form divorced from the person inside it. In “Dresses” two performers balance upside down, their white-tights-clad legs high in the air. They move their legs, but the legs no longer seem to be a part of a human. The illusion is busted when the two dancers flip over, revealing their heads and the rest of themselves. The reappearance of the human is a reminder of the ability and strength of the performers.

The movements are at times dizzying. “Handstands” features blacklit bodies wearing white unitards walking across stage on their hands or bent over backwards. They are sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. In either case, the repetitive motion of glowing white heads and footless bodies moving across space is hypnotizing. “Stretch” is similar: pairs of gymnasts perform cartwheels across stage in unison, over and over. The effect was such that at one point I was convinced there was a mirror stretched across the stage, and had to blink my eyes to get rid of the illusion.

As Aeros is a family-oriented show, there were several pieces which appealed more to children than to adults. “Table” and “Mushrooms,” while still demonstrating athletic prowess, were comedic and very silly and elicited a lot of giggles from the younger audience members. The two works featured four men arguing, one at a table and the other over who would get a seat on two giant stools. The fights quickly turned into movements, with two men circling on the stools and two others chasing their legs. In “Table,” the four men leapt from the ground onto the tabletop as though it were no big deal. The spins and jumps dazzled the audience. Another piece, “Rope” featured the patterns made by the twirling glow of dark jump ropes. It was an interesting and unique-looking performance, but the rope twirling did not contain enough novelty for an entire piece.

Child-friendly entertainment is often mind-numbingly dumbed down or simplistic and, more often than not, material that adults would never see on their own. Aeros, like most family shows, is bright and colorful. However, Aeros offers enough intellectual and artistic stimulation for an adult to be entertained while at the same time not boring the kids.

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