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April 2003

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Juilliard Dance

Published: April 8, 2003
Category: review

'Aeros' akin to 21st-century vaudeville

By Rachel Straus

Part athletic spectacle, part freak show, part physical wonder, the production “Aeros” is simultaneously an amusement for the eye and a muddle to the brain.

Performed Saturday night at Purchase College’s Performing Arts Center, “Aeros” merged competition-style gymnastics, concept choreography and Broadway production values into 90 minutes of back-flipping, and sometimes absurd, bravado.

With direction by American choreographers Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons and Moses Pendleton, costumes by Missoni, music by “Stomp” composers Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas and performances by 20 athletes from the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, “Aeros” felt like 21st century-style vaudeville.

“Aeros'” 18-part spectacle tears at the senses much like Baz Lurhman’s direction in “Moulin Rouge.” Appearing throughout are video projections, spotlights and feats of both sound engineering and bodily endurance that inspired the following audience vocalizations: “amazing,” “vulgar,” “nudge him, he’s sleeping.”

In “Handstands,” the full company walked on their hands for five minutes to the human pulse of Reggae. However because the stage was cast in black light, these graceful hand walkers morphed into creatures whose bodily mass, rendered inside yellow, long-sleeved leotards, appeared to float without heads, feet, or hands. As time wore on, the athletes looked like headless chickens ambling toward their last mortal step.

Sections of “Aeros” embraced a kinky underworld. In “Stretch,” a group of women alternatively accomplished crotch-splitting back-walkovers and cat-walking struts. However honorable their feats of flexibility and strength, the lighting and the sultry music metaphorically placed them on a runway, or more precisely in the red-light district.

Likewise in “Machine,” three men’s close-knit, forward rocking motion on the uneven bars to the sound track’s heavy breathing looked more like an out-take from a male sex parlor than like cogs working inside a machine.

Most inventive in “Aeros” was “Head.” Both visually arresting and anecdotal, “Head” began with a cocoon of fabric falling away to reveal a two-tiered cone structure. Dangling and reaching outwards from the structure like a slow-bursting pod stood the balancing gymnasts. Inside the flexible set design, the swaying company appeared like one living organism.

Below, a quartet of men slowly turned the set as though each were Hercules balancing earth on his shoulders. When two men rocked the structure from above, the pod looked like a ship at sea where two women, with heads circling above and legs spread akimbo, resembled octopi. In the finale, a man rose to the top of the structure as though he were a sailor ascending a masthead in search of dry land.

As evidenced by the heartily clapping audience, “Aeros” thrilled when it offered corporal elevation and cascading bodies. As the admirable performers sprung off their hands and feet to tumble higher and higher in “Blast” and “Blast Off,” they resembled flying fish in competition with each other.

In “Rings” and “Mini Tramps,” performers flew through the air and appeared to come out of superimposed projections of sailing clouds and sun-reflected waters. These moments were transcendent, both visually and intellectually.

The Journal News

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