Tango, not aerial dance, is Argentina's best-known cultural export. But with the Buenos Aires-based Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company, you get both. In fact, Angiel believes a certain aerial tango is one of the most poetic sections in her evening-length work Air-Condition: "It is a tango that expands timing and flotation," she said via email, shortly before the company arrived in Portland.
Angiel's six dancers—suspended from harnesses, ropes and bungee cords—will make their West Coast debut with Air-Condition, a video-infused dance performance that defies gravity's pull. In 14 physically challenging and often hypnotically beautiful segments, the dancers swoop and bound over the stage like furious angels, or hover horizontally, like William Hurt in Altered States, with their feet tickling the backstage wall and the tops of their heads pointing at the audience.
Kaleidoscopic patterns and optical illusions swirl through the work: When you're not earthbound, Angiel has discovered, you can reimagine the interplay of bodies, energy and space. "I can play with elements such as being upside-down longer," she said, "to rebound or suspend and extend timing of movement, change the spectator point of view by using a wall as a floor surface."
It's natural that dancers—who spend much of their careers practicing new and better ways of catching air—would dream of flying. Over the years, aerial dance companies and creations have drifted across the horizon like so many hot-air balloons. Some of these are showily acrobatic, while others have a stripped-down athletic purity (for reference, see San Francisco's Project Bandaloop company, which has danced off the face of Yosemite's El Capitan). Angiel, a classically trained dancer who came to the U.S. in the '80s to study with boundary-busting modernists like Cunningham and Nikolais, falls somewhere in the middle, stylistically speaking. Her choreography doesn't trumpet itself, but it does revel in the aesthetic and kinesthetic possibilities of aerial movement. This dance is rigged, and with good reason: Altering gravity not only changes the look of ballet, modern dance and even tango movement—it changes the mood as well.
Lincoln Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave., 725-3307, whitebird.org. 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, April 3-5. $16-$26.