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Nick Repoli

(Top to bottom) Jenny Carlson and Danielle DiVito in rehearsal for the aerial performance Ground.

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Ground

Ipswich Moving Company

Choreographed by Janet Taisy Craft

Performed by Chandra Cantor, Jenny Carlson, Danielle DiVito, and Tabitha Liversidge

Boston University Dance Theater

October 4-5, 2013

The word “aerial” has come to connote aerial silks, trapeze, lyra, and similar circus arts, and the performances often involve more acrobatics and gravity-defying tricks than dance per se. That’s not to say that aerial silks are not graceful or expressive, but that Cirque du Soleil has set a high standard for making audiences gasp.

In Ground, however, the use of the slings was strictly to serve the dance: the aerial dance concert, choreographed by Janet Taisy Craft and performed by members of the Ipswich Moving Company, was less an aerial performance and more a modern dance routine, in which the dancers often climbed, posed, or swung on the cloth slings and ropes that hung alongside them. The dance involved floor routines as much as, if not more than, aerial stunts. In fact, because the slings are loops, many of the techniques used with silks, which are not tied together at the bottom, cannot be easily replicated with the slings.

Ground did not include the elaborate wrapping and falling typical of aerial silks, and the dancers rarely climbed up high onto them. Instead, the dancers swung, often hanging upside down with their loose hair nearly brushing the floor, and the choreography focused much more on the expressive power of small movements and interactions between the dancers.

Ground was staged at the Boston University Dance Theater, and a tape down the middle of the rows of seats marked the side of the theater where it was suggested that the audience sit to best view the performance. The reason was clear when the lights came on: there were large mirrors along stage left, where, during part of a floor routine, the dancers piled up against their reflections.

Many moments in the choreography involved the dancers moving together into one mass. A particularly impressive example was the final pose, where the four dancers became knotted together while hanging on one sling. In the first pose, when the curtains opened, two dancers hanging from the same sling created a similar visual effect: there was a confusion of limbs that turned the troupe into something greater than the sum of its parts. It would have been interesting to see more exploration of these techniques, which would have perhaps required the use of partner acrobatics but would not necessarily have taken the focus away from dance.

The slings look like incredible fun, and wanting to try them out for myself was part the enjoyment of watching this performance. The tempo of the music was generally meditative, and most of the use of the slings, even when swinging across the stage, was gentle. In aerial routines that awe audiences with the element of danger, where performers nearly tumble to the ground but the silks catch them in the nick of time, it’s hard to identify with the performers, especially if you are afraid of heights and can’t imagine doing anything so dangerous yourself. The thrill of watching that sort of performance is similar to the thrill of watching a daredevil.

Here, however, I felt like a kid watching other kids playing on a swing set. Part of the skill of incorporating aerial elements into a dance is making it all look easier than it really is, of course, but I suspect the audience got an accurate sense of the fun that the dancers were having.