American Dance Festival

June 30, 2005

Viviana Finkelstein, Cristina Tziouras, and Ana Armas of the Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company in
South, wall and after
Photo by Bruce R. Feeley/ADF, courtesy ADF

American Dance Festival
Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company, Page Auditorium, Durham, NC

June 30–July 2, 2005

Battleworks, Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham, NC

July 11–13, 2005

Reviewed by Susan Yung


Bound to the earth, we’re constantly inventing ways to flee its surface. Likewise, choreographers seek ways to spice up their staple—dancers on a stage—particularly when competing for attention in this age of computerized special effects. Brenda Angiel has ideas about both, which she showed at ADF. Her six-member troupe from Argentina spent most of the performance dangling against the upstage wall or center stage from harnesses and cables, challenging gravity and the status quo.

In variations, blobs of Technicolor light cocooned five performers who sprung off the wall or aligned in formations. Suspended by an arm, a man flew through splits and horizontal layouts. Women bounded about the stage’s periphery like Santa’s reindeer, flaunting featherweight aerials that would turn a gymnast green with envy. A pair tangoed, resembling marionettes constrained for fear of entanglement. In the program’s most poignant episode, a duo clung together, raked by light to cast long shadows. The conclusion featured five dancers on the upstage wall, running back and forth like ticking pendulums.

Angiel dedicates her entire repertoire to aerial dance, posing it as a subgenre of contemporary dance. But as we’ve learned from many comic-book superheros, power comes with a price. Liberation from the ground means an oddly prohibitive range of motion and emotional expression—a tradeoff with novel but limited interest.

Robert Battle’s recent work has often featured fervor and rapture—religious, or implied in altered states of mind. This theme, rooted in the American South, where Battle was raised, has provided a setting rife with mystery, dynamic prowess, and high theater. Battleworks, his remarkable company, performs with a collegiate athleticism and daring abandon.

Battle ratcheted down his usual frenetic pace in the world premiere of Communion. Backs to us, the dancers walked ceremoniously, hands touching midspine in a tantalizing yogic affirmation. Tyler Gilstrap, seized by the spirit, strained to push away from the earth, collapsing as whispers slipped around her. The dancers wore warm-toned velvet smocks (by Mia McSwain) redolent of those in Mark Morris’s Falling Down Stairs. Some performers propelled themselves ineffectually while lying on their stomachs—a blatant quotation of Morris. These and other evocations of Morris, most likely inadvertent, regrettably linger about the dances like smog.

On the brighter side, Unfold (2005) emerged as the program’s highlight. As the lights rose, Clare Holland appeared, feet planted, bent backward like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Apparently intoxicated with abandon, she contorted herself into a pinwheel as Kanji Segawa hit the deck in a fast hinge. Holland triumphed in an attack/counterattack, hoisting herself atop him. To each hyperarticulated sung syllable of a Charpentier song, Holland collapsed, bone by bone, into a pitiable heap, quenched.

Battleworks also performed Allelulia (2002) as well as four works vying to become Battle’s signature dance: Strange Humors, Two, Takademe, and—my vote—The Hunt, a riveting ritual and battle to pounding urban percussion, punched up with lighting by Burke J. Wilmore. See