AEROS performers combine dance with gymnastics for show


The dance group AEROS brings its gymnasts-as-dancers concept to the Phillips Center tonight.

Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 7:21 p.m.

AEROS, the exciting union of gymnastic athletics and dance aesthetics, returns to the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts tonight at 7:30 p.m. The production, which has been seen on worldwide stages and the Bravo cable channel, made its world debut at the Phillips in 1999.

Modern dance greats Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons and Moses Pendleton serve as AEROS' directors and choreographers. In collaboration with the creators of STOMP, Ezralow, Parsons and Pendleton sought to create movement-theater that (like STOMP) could appeal as popular entertainment.

A gymnasts-as-dancers concept is the foundation of AEROS; the 20 performers are not dance professionals but athletes from the formidable Romanian Gymnastics Federation. The exceptional abilities of the gymnasts do not make for "dance" in the traditional sense of lines, angles or turns - this is definitely gymnastics, albeit gymnastics designed by three of 20th-century dance's most creative minds.

The result is not necessarily performing "art" per se, but by utilizing sports in an artistic context, the remarkably strong, limber bodies of the performers make for worthy entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed the world premiere, in which the packed theater resounded with gasps and cheers over the gymnast's soaring aerials and breathtaking moments of slow, concentrated control.

"Our point was to make it accessible," Ezralow said in a Los Angeles Times interview. "We're trying to make something people can get."

With AEROS, the choreographers eschew plot, esoteric meanings or social commentaries, which the public may associate with dance, in favor of the familiar physical mediums of gymnastic feats: rings, trampolines and vaults are all variously present on stage. The production's 19 segments have straightforward, single-word titles such as "Ropes," "Table," "Balls" and "Stretch."

The choreographers coordinate the cast beautifully while adding expressive elements of playful humor, provocative intimacy and technical stagecraft, all set to an original score.

In the tradition of Parsons' celebrated "Caught," lighting renders the impossible as gymnasts, turned upside down in basic handstands, appear instead as glowing, neon creatures with fanciful proportions. The gymnasts work off of each other's bodies in ways that echo the "contact improvisation" aesthetic of Pilobolus, the landmark company that Pendleton co-founded in 1971.

Pendleton then founded MOMIX a decade later; that celebrated company performs at the Phillips on Feb. 29. Also a Guggenheim Fellow, Pendelton has choreographed for companies around the world; his work has been seen in Prince's "Batdance" video, the closing ceremonies of the 1980 Olympics and PBS' "Dance in America" series.

Ezralow was a member of Lars Lubovitch and Paul Taylor's respective companies as well as one of the original dancer-choreographers of MOMIX. As a prolific freelance choreographer, Ezralow has created works for companies like Paris Opera Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Israel's Batsheva Dance Company. He has received both an NEA Choreography Fellowship and the Nijinsky Award for Dance.

As artistic director, Parsons has created more than 50 works for Parsons Dance Company. The company, as well as Parsons himself, was here last fall, presented by UF Performing Arts and working with UF School of Theatre and Dance and Shands Arts-in Medicine. In the '70s and '80s, Parsons was a lead dancer of Paul Taylor Dance Company (also just here last fall) and has guest performed with the likes of New York City Ballet and Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project.

Parsons was trained as a gymnast, no doubt appreciating that the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, which spawns champions such as celebrity Nadia Comaneci, boasts some of the world's best. Cast members of AEROS all compete at the international level, and the production succeeds just by presenting such high-caliber gymnasts onstage.

"The flying, vaulting, flipping, cartwheeling maneuvers are indeed awesome," says critic Lewis Segal.

And according to the San Francisco Chronicle, "there is something inevitably beautiful about AEROS."

Sarah Ingley can be reached at Scene@gvillsun.com.

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