Alibi V.23 No.45 • Nov 6-12, 2014 

Arts Feature

Gravitating Toward Flight

Other Worlds transports dance to new realms

AirDancers Tasha Books, Monica Demarco, Christina Cavaleri and Zachary Sears
AirDancers Tasha Books, Monica Demarco, Christina Cavaleri and Zachary Sears
Joanna Furgal
Gravity—like daily life and everything else—is bound to be different on other worlds. The idea of odd, unearthly realms captured the imagination of dancer Debra Landau. Ultimately these flights of fancy resulted in a new way to look at dance.

In 1986 Debra Landau arrived in New Mexico. She came here to study with renowned dancer Lee Connor, who was part of the growing Albuquerque arts scene. Connor's work with students in UNM's dance program infused the College of Fine Arts with a sense of possibility and wonder.

Landau began her studies with an emphasis on improvisational theater and dance; she recalls, “I didn’t start off traditionally. I felt I wasn’t headed for a dance career but more [one as an] avant-garde choreographer or a performance artist. But I wound up doing some modern dance while on scholarship at UNM.”

According to Landau, Other Worlds “starts from a place of commonality” and expands to a realm of collective magic and innovation. The AirDance company's large roster of performers also includes local musicians whose atmospheric compositions reflect the physical endeavors undertaken by Landau’s dancers.

When Connor died in September 1987, Landau kept moving in the face of tragedy. She continued her studies with Tim Wengerd and later became a member of the Bill Evans Dance Company. As part of this storied troupe, Landau honed her art.

Christina Cavaleri and Dara Minkin
Christina Cavaleri and Dara Minkin
Guadalupe Chavez
And then there was the circus. As the '90s took shape, many in the dance community started to look outside their genre for inspiration. Landau became fascinated with the movement and methods of acrobats and aerialists in particular. She spent the next decade researching, observing and studying the work of artists who spent their time in the air, unencumbered by the stage or proscenium. She says the nascent Cirque Nouveau movement further influenced her art. “I started blurring the lines between circus and theater,” said Landau.

She also commenced planning the creation of a space wherein she could realize her wide-ranging vision. As time passed, Landau's interest in an alternative to traditional dance became an artistic obsession. She began a serious study of circus arts with Robert Davidson. Her teacher was a student of Terry Sendgraff, who many consider the originator of aerial dance.

Landau's efforts came to fruition at the dawn of the millennium, when she founded AirDance New Mexico, a nonprofit collective of dancers, poets—including longtime partner and collaborator Jeff Hartzer—musicians and aerialists. She developed AirDance New Mexico's home over a period of several years. “We bought the ArtSpace building at the very end of 2000. And then went through a very long and ultimately very wonderful renovation process. That wasn’t completed until 2006,” she said. “I took various breaks here and there, and AirDance as it exists now started in the fall of 2010.”

Within the past four years, AirDance has become an aesthetic phenomenon. The organization has supported local arts efforts such as women's solo experimental fest Gatas y Vatas. In addition to offering classes and workshops on aerial technique, AirDance consistently produces exciting and innovative events. And she notes that inclusiveness was always the goal. “I didn’t want to call it the Debra Landau Dance Company because I wanted it to be collaborative. I gathered up a group of really amazing, multi-talented people, and we started experimenting,” said Landau. “We put on our first show in 2011, [and] later that year, we incorporated.”

Tasha Books, Christina Cavaleri, Monica Demarco
Tasha Books, Christina Cavaleri, Monica Demarco
Joanna Furgal
The latest production by AirDance, Other Worlds, makes its Albuquerque debut from Friday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 9, at AirDance ArtSpace (3030 Isleta SW). Friday and Saturday's performances happen in the evening at 8pm, and a Sunday matinee is scheduled at 2pm. The collected performances include air-centered choreography featuring cubes, hoops, trapezes and fabric realized with accompanying musical flourishes.

According to Landau, Other Worlds “starts from a place of commonality” and expands to a realm of collective magic and innovation. The AirDance company's large roster of performers also includes local musicians whose atmospheric compositions reflect the physical endeavors undertaken by Landau’s dancers. Around two years ago, local composer Monica Demarco joined AirDance as musical director. In addition to coordinating with local instrumentalists, Demarco has also become one of the troupe's aerialists. Hiram Kamp, Kris Kerby and Sage Harrington, a diverse trio of local musicians, complete the group's sonic crew.

Other Worlds touches on “strange spheres of the imagination,” including ceremonial battles among women warriors, the existence of mythical beings and an aerial tea party at the end of the world. “We wondered how things would be if Earth had a different kind of gravity. ... That started a conversation about other places, other dimensions, and how we would move on those other worlds,” Landau mused. “For us, ‘other worlds’ means everything from the moon to a Buddhist interpretation of the end-times.”

In conjunction with AirDance New Mexico's new production, Albuquerque watercolor artist Travis Bruce Black will present a series of thematically related paintings in the lobby of ArtSpace. Combined with the other creative entities and mediums involved, the audience should prepare to be transported to a vitally new artistic realm.

AirDance New Mexico presents Other Worlds

Friday and Saturday, Nov. 7 and 8, 8pm; Sunday, Nov. 9, 2pm

AirDance ArtSpace
3030 Isleta SW
Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 for seniors, students and children
airdance.org, 842-9418
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