A woman dressed in a tattered white gown dances with her prince, suspended from a single trapeze, as the shadows of skeletal trees play across their bodies. Grace and power combine in a passionate pas de deux, rousing the audience to cheers.
At 2019’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, Aeriform Arts gave us a cirque and aerial-themed reimagining of the classic ballet Giselle, which tells the story of a peasant girl who dies of a broken heart after discovering that her lover, Duke Albrecht in disguise, is betrothed to another. She is summoned from her grave by the Wilis, ghostly women seeking revenge on unfaithful men by forcing them to dance to their deaths. When Giselle’s lover is taken by the Wilis, the depth of her love is strong enough to overcome the desire for vengeance, setting both of them free.
While the basic story is simple, this retelling of Giselle was muddled to the point of being incomprehensible. Character introductions were unclear, and the costumes were all so similar that it was hard to distinguish who was who. The choreography did not encourage the group to work as a corps, so when there were multiple performers on stage, it was difficult to determine the focus of the scene. Was it the acrobats in front? The aerialist in the center? The stilts-walkers or dancers on the ground? The visual confusion was heightened even more by the straightforward, evenly-lit stage. The use of projected images to set the scene was charming, but ultimately only added to the clutter.
With too many performers on stage during key scenes, the staging was too chaotic, confusing the narrative. All of the acrobats and aerialists had strong performances on an array of apparatus – including silks, hammock, and dance trapeze – and had the choreography used those sequences to advance the narrative, the show would have been breathtaking. However, most all of the key moments were in traditional dance styles, grounding the show with long, leaden, and awkward floor sequences. During those dance scenes, most of the performers seemed uncomfortable with both the steps and the techniques, and the choreography itself failed to adequately convey the story. While aerial arts are extremely physically demanding, the number of performers (including excellent acrobats, stilts-walkers, and sadly underutilized bungee rope dancers) should have allowed the story to be told using circus skills only.
It was apparent that Aeriform Arts and the cast of Giselle put a lot of time into this production, and were able to showcase their skills and artistry. All of the individual acrobatic and aerial performances were fantastic, but they were unable to create and identifiable and clear narrative, doing a disservice to the story they were trying to tell. With any luck, future performances will truly allow their artistry and storytelling to shine.
Find out more about Aeriform Arts and their upcoming shows here. Check out all of our Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019 coverage here. Follow our Event Guide for more entertainment throughout the year.