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by Carmel Morgan

February 8, 2008 -- The Warner Theatre, Washington, DC

The Washington Performing Arts Society brought the high-energy gymnastics troupe AEROS to DC on February 8, 2008.  AEROS, which formed in 1998, was fashioned with entertainment in mind.  It got its start with help from the producers of the popular Broadway production STOMP.  AEROS doesn’t try to pass itself off as a dance company, despite the fact that it features choreography by noted modern dance choreographers Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons, and Moses Pendleton.  Its program clearly represents that the young performers are “gymnasts.”

The members of AEROS, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, are all from the Romanian Gymnastics Federation.  Without a doubt they are talented gymnasts.  Together they have amassed mounds of muscles and medals.  But these talented athletes completely miss the mark when it comes to executing anything other than gymnastics tricks.  Unfortunately, although they are blessed with beautiful bodies, they possess no dancing skills.  Therefore, for dance fans, the performance was a disappointment.  One wonders whether gymnastics fans likewise were disappointed by the mix of movement AEROS offers.

AEROS succeeds in entertaining to some degree.  The choreography utilizes the troupe’s impressive athletic abilities.  The show consists of a series of short pieces centered on shifting body shapes.  At times the formations were visually stunning.  However, the gymnasts’ inability to express nuanced emotion was grating.  The looks on their faces ranged from glued on smiles to absolute emptiness.   

The show is probably most entertaining for children.  The children in the audience were thrilled by the constant jumping and flipping, and they giggled at AEROS’s juvenile bits of humor.  To an adult, the question, “How many more backbends (handstands, etc.) can they do?” arose, and the show quickly grew tiresome.  Too much of the movement looked the same.    

Ultimately, AEROS’s performance came across as an experiment in choreography gone wrong.  It must be exciting for a choreographer to work with gifted athletes whose powerhouse frames have very different capabilities (and limitations) than that of a typical dancer.  A whole new dance vocabulary could develop.  Instead, this collaboration between young gymnasts and established modern dance choreographers resulted in nothing more than jazzed-up group floor exercise routines to excessively loud music.

The most successful element of the show was Howell Binkley’s brilliant lighting.  Binkley has worked with many dance companies, including David Parsons’ Parsons Dance Company.  He was the 2006 Tony award winner for his lighting design for the musical “Jersey Boys.”  Binkley’s lighting made the gymnasts stand out.  There was a lovely number, “Rings,” in which Gabriela Hreban was a floating angel, magically appearing behind a scrim onto which clouds were projected.  In another mesmerizing piece, “Handstands,” the gymnasts walked across the stage on their hands, their unitards an eerie, iridescent under-the-sea blue.  The lighting transformed them into crabs and jellyfish.  Finally, there was “Minitramps,” in which flying gymnasts propelled themselves into perfectly formed arcs, one after another.  This soaring sequence was delightfully dizzying.  Flashes of water waved on the scrim in front of the divers, illuminating the tips of their toes before they disappeared into a dark pool.             

One has to admire AEROS’s strength and stamina, but they don’t resemble a dance company.  The troupe presents Cirque de Soleil style acrobatics, minus the mature artistry.  Even with the involvement of modern dance choreographers Daniel Ezralow, David Parsons, and Moses Pendleton, AEROS’s gymnasts aren’t elevated to dancers.          

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