Chicago Sun-Times

AEROS' gymnasts soar
March 4, 200


"AEROS," the new spectacle of high-impact physical theater and athletic prowess, made its Chicago debut Friday night with a single performance at the Chicago Theatre. And it was easy to see why three of the most inge nious contemporary choreographers--Daniel Ezralow, Moses Pendleton and David Parsons--jumped at the opportunity to work on this project, which involves 20 athletes from the Romanian Gymnastics Federation.

First, here are performers whose sheer strength and physical capabilities extend well beyond that of even the most gifted and aerobically superior dancers. Second, they had at their disposal performers whose incredible daring, dynamic force and flexibility would enable them to create unique theatrical illusions. And third, they could potentially attract a live audience that might draw on the huge television audience that tunes into the Olympics, as well as the sophisticated big-top crowd that packs the tents of Cirque du Soleil.

In addition, each of these choreographers has already expanded the vocabulary of dance well beyond the traditional dance lexicon: Ezralow (as a founder of Momix) and Pendleton (as a founder of Pilobolus) have both specialized in witty, audacious physical transformations, and Parsons, as both dancer and choreographer, has always had an athletic bent.

"AEROS," with its mix of humor, eroticism, sculptural experimentation and hard-core muscularity, is at its best when it camouflages standard gymnastic movements most: When, for example, four men sit at a table like a quartet of Stanley Kowalskis and compete with slow, single handstand balances; or a group of men in bathing caps and trunks lurch into body dives to the floor like a school of gilded porpoises; or when two women perched in shoulder stands and wrapped in flaring skirts carve the air with their legs, creating abstract forms like those made by Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

Also powerful is a sequence on a set of parallel bars and a horse, in which male and female gymnasts create steely, syncopated movements as if they are the hard-pumping pistons in a giant manufacturing plant. A totally different mood is established by a group of performers cast in phosphorescent light who seem to magically morph into insects or many-legged sea creatures.

A huge, springy skull form is a beautiful image when it is first wheeled onstage, but the enormous apparatus, draped with carefully counterbalanced gymnasts, is never deployed to maximum effect.

Happily, the performers--almost superhuman in endurance and control--are not the usual anorexics in early adolescence featured in competitions; instead, they have strong, solid bodies and a great sense of play as well as titanic discipline.

Howell Binkley's lighting design is unquestionably a star of the show. He is a magician of color and a gymnast of the insubstantial.

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