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 Nov 9 - 15, 2017 
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Culture Shock

The Things with Wings

AirDance New Mexico launches two new performances this weekend

By Maggie Grimason
AirDance New Mexico takes theater to the sky through aerial dance performances. Their newest is titled Entomography.
AirDance New Mexico takes theater to the sky through aerial dance performances. Their newest is titled Entomography.
William Blackshear

The video unfolds like this: A white plastic broom with stiff yellow bristles is poised in the lower frame of the camera and ahead is massive brown Wolf Spider, unassumingly chilling on the terra cotta tiles of YouTube user “That Broom's” house. (I'm assuming it is That Broom's house; this video, after all, is billed in all caps as THE ORIGINAL version.) The camera advances as does the broom, the spider coming in to sharper focus. If you're like me, that is, the kind of person that catches everything from crickets to cockroaches in jars and takes them outside to safety, then this next part is hard to watch. The broom descends with fury, smashing the poor spider. But in a Charlotte's Web-esque turn of events, when the broom is lifted, hundreds (thousands?) of tiny, baby spiders explode outwards across the tile from the center point of their writhing mother's body. The broom holder frantically tries to sweep up the tiny black specks, but they are a small army. It's like instant karma if you're team spider.

It seems unlikely that this YouTube video might have inspired something as nuanced as an aerial dance performance, but the fact is that it has. In the dressing room before AirDance New Mexico's spring performance, the video was passed around and played among the dancers when someone made the offhand suggestion, “We should do a performance based on bugs.” The group took the idea and ran with it. After months of preparation, premiering this Friday, Nov. 10, and playing through Sunday, Nov. 12 is Entomography, an original performance put on by our local professional aerial dance troupe at the AirDance ArtSpace (3030 Isleta Blvd. SW).

“Sometimes we start from choreography—like that's an amazing trick, that's an amazing shape, how do we put a story to it? And sometimes we start from story and that informs how the show is going to work,” Joanna Furgal, the program manager and the director of Entomography explained. “For this show, the story came first.” In this theatrical exploration of dance and the smaller world underfoot and overhead, a human wanders into a world of human-sized bugs, “he is studying them, but the story is about his interaction with this world and if he changes it or it changes him.”

The intrepid explorer encounters all manner of insect life—slugs, ants, moths and butterflies. The AirDance performers create these bugs-turned-characters with very deliberate sets of motion and with props, though, because of the nature of aerial performance (which of course, involves movement at a height through the use of silks and other materials) costumes are paired down, so as not to become entangled with the equipment. “It requires some suspension of disbelief,” Furgal said, though she described an opening number where stilters are transformed into stick bugs through costuming, and that there is a slug that “you can definitely tell is a slug.” The base costume for all the dancers is a dark colored leotard inspired by the iridescent wings of beetles.

In Entomography, performers make use of aerial silks, hammocks, cubes and a special apparatus designed just for this show that mimics a spiderweb. With these props, the story unfolds in moments both poignant and playful. Dancer Kristen Woods has a solo as a moth on the silks trying to touch the light. In other scenes, a small army of ants move over the cube which, has transformed by imaginative power, into a piece of food. “The story really informs the movement quality,” Furgal said, “so, as ants, we are all very angular and methodical.” In another scene, where the slug oozes over the same cube, the movement becomes, “very fluid and funny.”

Happening the same weekend as Entomography is another performance, staged by AirDance's junior crew, this piece titled Scare Tactics. These students of aerial dance were self-directed in the creation of the content and story of the show, working with guidance from Furgal, the two other teachers at the nonprofit dance space, and artistic director and founder Debra Landau. Scare Tactics addresses fears both otherworldly and everyday. Creepy clowns, dolls, small spaces, being alone, even the fear of not fitting in—the pieces compiled into this show run the gamut. “There's a good array of creepy crawlers and the genuine and heartfelt,” Furgal summarized. The distinct performances of Scare Tactics and Entomography overlap this weekend, with the former on a limited run, Saturday and Sunday at 1pm, also at AirDance ArtSpace.

Fostering the creativity of these younger performers is part of what drives Furgal's passion for her work. “It is so cool to watch young artists become young artists,” she said. Though her enthusiasm for sharing this up-and-coming art form extends to every type of learner. To that end, AirDance isn't just performance collective, but they also offer classes. “Albuquerque has such a thriving arts scene, I think it’s important to have this represented here,” Furgal said, going on to stress that the beauty and magic of aerial dance is accessible for everyone. “If you see a show, and wish you could do that—you absolutely can! You can engage with this art form. You can fly.”

Entomography and Scare Tactics take flight this weekend. Entomography will be performed at 8pm Friday and Saturday and 6pm on Sunday. Scare Tactics takes the stage Saturday and Sunday at 1pm. Find out more information about performances and classes at airdance.org.

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