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Don’t Try This at Home

FleetBoston Celebrity Series presents Aeros

Directed by Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons, and Moses Pendleton

In collaboration with Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas

Featuring athletes from The Romanian Gymnastics Federation

Emerson Majestic Theatre

What do you get if you mix the talents of Romania’s top gymnasts with those of America’s best choreographers and throw in the creative team behind the success musical STOMP! as a freebie? The answer -- Aeros -- was on full display last weekend as 20 gymnasts-turned-dancers mesmerized a stunned audience at the Emerson Majestic Theatre with gravity-defying wizardry and startling acrobatics.

Interdisciplinarity is all the rage not only in science, but also in art where more and more artists find their niche by combining different forms of artistic statement (read: fusion). In such a climate it was just a matter of time before two natural bedfellows, modern dance and gymnastics, got their marriage sanctioned. After all, the two disciplines have been flirting with each other for quite some time: ballet borrowing its technical fireworks from gymnastics, and choreographers, in turn, spicing up many gymnastics routines.

Moving gymnasts onto the stage under the direction of innovative choreographers would thus be a natural evolution of modern ballet, or so thought Antonio Gnecchi Ruscone, the Italian impresario who started working on Aeros back in 1998. He got help from cutting-edge American choreographers David Parsons, Daniel Ezralow, and Moses Pendelton, all of whom are known for infusing modern dance with physicality and acrobatics. The high-profiled trio got additional help from Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, the men behind the percussive smash hit STOMP!, and worked with Toronto-based TTG Music Labs to create the original score.

The result of this rare artistic enterprise is an evening of marvel. It’s astonishing and in many ways humbling to see the precision, coordination, and technical proficiency with which the gymnasts execute their flying, vaulting, flipping, and cartwheeling maneuvers. They raise the bar on classically trained dancers when it comes to virtuosity, fluidity, and control of movements. The Romanians, many of whom have World Championship medals in their home cabinets, throw themselves onto and across tables and stools, bounce off trampolines, and use rings, parallel bars, and even a giant, jiggling/rotating jungle gym to strike gravity defying poses, all the while making it look effortless and natural.

The show, built around the athletes’ amazing technical skills, is made up of short, seemingly disconnected segments, each with its own unique thematic and aesthetic flair. In one segment, a group of dancers simulate the workings of a steam engine on a set of double bars. Repetitive and mechanical movements, executed in perfect synchrony, increase in tempo and complexity, successfully creating an illusion of an accelerating engine. Another vignette invokes an imaginary swimming contest, with dancers springing off trampolines and diving across the stage behind a slide-screen onto which an image of bubbling water is projected.

The big challenge for the creative team must have been to find thematic vehicles showcasing the gymnasts’ physical and acrobatic skills, while not exposing their inexperience as actors and dancers. Consequently, it is the abstract and simple pieces that work best. In one scene, three dancers are swirling around the dark stage with glowing ropes whose trajectories create amazing visual illusions. In another sequence the sounds of hands and feet hitting the floor are amplified, creating a symphony of perfectly timed landings as the dancers execute a series of handsprings.

But some minor shortcomings of an otherwise beautifully realized production appear when emotional content is incorporated into the vignettes. An example of this comes in the lyric duet for Cristian Moldovan and Lacramioara Filip, both World Champion medalists. Performed under a giant moonlike disk, Filip balances off her partner’s back in ever more impossible positions, and while it’s easy to marvel at their skills, it is a highly asexual affair with no hint of romance or eroticism.

These moments of aesthetic dissonance are few, and they point to the possible weaknesses in the fusion of ballet and gymnastics. The emotional intensity and sense of drama often invoked by professional dancers is absent in Aeros, but the gymnasts’ technical virtuosity combined with the imaginative choreography and stunning visual images more than make up for it. On the whole, Aeros makes for an astonishing and, at times, even magical, evening of dance and acrobatics.

If you missed the show this time around, I have a feeling you may get a second chance. Aeros premiered in Los Angeles this January, and has yet to hit New York City, where the Broadway hyping machine will most likely kick in with full force. If the Big Apple receives the show as well as the sell-out Boston crowd did, you may want to make space for the Aeros mug, T-shirt, and teddy bear, among your Disney and Warner Brother’s paraphernalia. AEROS --The Film, for one, is already in production. The flying Romanians, it seems, are here to stay.