Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance, Durham, NC

Written by:
Alyssa Schoeneman
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Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company
Durham Performing Arts Center
Durham, NC
July 10, 2010

Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company members perform a scene from “8CHO”
Photo by James Arias

(see video clip below)

Equating the term “aerial dance” with the likes of Cirque du Soleil and newly familiar with ballroom via “Dancing with the Stars,” the patrons of the Durham Performing Arts Center had high expectations for the Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company.  Despite the inherent flashiness of the company’s tango-infused evening-length work, “8CHO,” the performance lacked the technical refinement and choreographic excellence that audiences have grown to expect from American Dance Festival endorsed performances.

Set to a bevy of spicy Spanish songs, “8CHO” engaged the audience in a series of short stories; dancers were highlighted in both homosexual and heterosexual duets and trios, in addition to the occasional solo.  Angiel experimented with the amount of rigged dancers as well, frequently pairing a flier with a grounded partner and deriving choreography accordingly.

The majority of “8CHO”’s traditional male-female duets left something to be desired in the way of emotional connection and in choreographic innovation.  Though the dancers were constantly in varying degrees of motion, rotation and flight, the rigs seemed to be highly underutilized overall; outside of the expected added loft in jumps and increased momentum during turning movements, the rigs did not enhance the tangos in significant ways. On the contrary, the rigs often distracted from a lack of technical clarity from Angiel’s dancers, causing sickled feet and underdeveloped port de bras to go unnoticed.

In a grounded duet between Angiel herself and a company member, a lack of finished lines and upper body support was glaringly obvious; the pair began the tango with what can be described as “Orangutan” arms, devoid of any kind of shape or carriage.  The choreography in this duet was also highly uninspired, as movements were linked with little transitional flow. Despite the smiling faces of Angiel and her partner throughout, this short number caused a drag in momentum near the end of the show from which it was hard to recover.

That being said, however, the evening certainly had its high points – quite literally and figuratively speaking.  A playful trio early in the show only partially exposed the dancers’ bodies, creating a kind of upside down puppet show for the audience; selective use of their limbs heightened the dancers’ focus on clarity of intent and their ability to tell stories via body language, making the number highly accessible to the audience.  Another choreographic highlight took the form of a male solo.  The dancer effectively harnessed his increased physical potential by using the rig to glide through the splits, to enhance his acrobatics and to test the limits of his own strength with altered gravity.  This short section stood out in its subtle, unapologetic nature against the smoke and bright lights in the many acts that preceded and followed.

Yet it was Angiel’s live musical accompaniment proved to be the show’s true stars, providing the necessary, driving undercurrent to a form of ballroom dance that thrives on passion.  Always onstage, these company members provided transitions to the evening’s work, but more importantly, added a through line in a performance that could have easily read as disjointed.  Angiel should consider herself lucky to have found such a high-quality music ensemble to support her dance company; perhaps at the next show she should consider giving these artists top billing instead.

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