Taking Dance to New Heights Dancers from around the World Came to Boston to Perform Aerial Works

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At 6:30 in the evening, the sidewalks of downtown Boston are teeming with people on the move.

But on the corner of Arlington and Columbus, music begins to blare from giant loudspeakers, and foot traffic starts to slow.

Within moments, crowds on all sides of the intersection are gazing upward, transfixed, as members of the California-based dance/ climbing troupe Project Bandaloop swing off the roof of the Castle at Park Plaza and slowly dance their way down the sides of the building. They soar and twirl, sometimes intertwined in tightly choreographed maneuvers, other times bounding horizontally off the building's surface, transforming our perception of gravity's pull. It's the opening event of Dance Umbrella's International Festival of Aerial Dance in mid-June. The skyscraper soaring gives the Boston- based organization's motto, "Expect the unexpected," new meaning. Four days of concerts, outreach programs, and conferences marked the first time aerial artists from around the world have had the opportunity to perform, and explore this burgeoning dance form together. For the public, this meant two alternating programs of gravity- defying works by 11 companies using bungee cords, ropes, harnesses, trapezes, ladders, poles, and walls as the means to sweep dancers and audiences off their feet with imagination, daring, and impressive skill. No circus tricks here The works ranged from the poetic to the athletic - some had enough context to evoke meaning and emotion, others were more abstract and imagistic. In certain cases, the apparatuses were the focal point, and the choreography paled in light of the exhibition of physical skill and daring. But hardly ever did the work fall into mere circus tricks or gimmickry, as one might have expected. "These works are not just about spectacle and tricks," explains Dance Umbrella director Jeremy Alliger. "They're about the integrity of the movement and the artistic vision of the choreographer ... using another element in their palette to explore with, rather than the {aerial} element being the primary focus." In the most effective works, the choreography was enriched and expanded by the ability to take movement into the air. Bodyvox's "One," for example, was an exquisite duet for two men on a low trapeze. Choreographed by Eric Skinner and performed by Skinner and Daniel Kirk, the work took the sculptural invention of Pilobolus and Momix (companies with which Bodyvox's founders danced) airborne, allowing their sensuous, intricate couplings a sweeping lyricism. Similarly, the trapeze, harness, and rope work of Britain's Momentary Fusion (Sophy Griffiths and Isabel Rocamora) had both tight choreographic construction and a solid emotional core, so the audience is pulled in less by the mere defiance of gravity than by the power of the movement and its corresponding effect. Bungee cords and ladders The works with bungee cords, flexible lines from which the performers hung, afforded an unprecedented sense of rebound that was viscerally thrilling to watch. …