Leaping, jumping and reaching, dancers expend enormous amounts of energy emulating flight, but choreographer Brenda Angiel makes the air her element, sending her troupe soaring high above the stage.
“My normal space is in the air,” Angiel says. “I don’t see it as flying anymore. It’s something normal, daily.”
Angiel first set her sights upward in the mid 1990s with a pair of shows she created in her native Buenos Aires. In the first, she suspended herself and two other dancers above the stage; in the second, she used the wall of the theater as a base to propel dancers out over the audience.
“I realized it was a whole new world of movement to explore,” says Angiel, 47. “It was a new floor for the dancers … and I ended up doing almost the whole show in the air.”
In 8cho, the spectacle her Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company performs at the Adrienne Arsht Center beginning Thursday, she brings the earthy sensuality of tango into the air with her. The Argentine dance’s usually tension-sprung lifts and turns, the taut space between couples, explodes outward with dancers who circle and soar on rigging manipulated by off-stage technicians. They’re further propelled by an on-stage ensemble that blends electronic elements into an original musical score.
The show’s name — pronounced “o-cho,” eight in Spanish — is a reference to tango’s most basic rhythmic pattern as well as to the way the numeral 8 turned sideways symbolizes infinity and perpetual motion.
Another immersive, movement-oriented Argentine spectacle, Fuerza Bruta, had a successful summer run in 2009 at the Arsht Center. Executive vice president Scott Shiller says the center aims to appeal to international tourists who flock to Miami in the summer with shows that don’t require English proficiency as well as to audiences that might not be attracted to traditional theater or dance offerings.
But Shiller says he’s also been a fan of Angiel’s work since he first saw her company four years ago at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. The festival has presented Angiel’s troupe frequently since she studied there from 1988 to 1991. Those performances helped lead to appearances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and favorable reviews in publications including The New York Times.
At the 2009 North Carolina show, “I was blown away, and sitting there thinking, ‘Does anything get more Miami than this?,’ ” Shiller says.
The Arsht is inviting presenters from around the country to see 8cho in hope of mounting a U.S. tour.
“It’s a thinking man’s Cirque du Soleil, with much more sophisticated dance and aerial work,” Shiller says. “Brenda brings a fresh perspective from the way circus performers approach aerial work.”
Although arcing through the air on the end of a rope requires many of the same skills and strengths as acrobatics and gymnastics, Angiel says the seven members of her troupe are dancers first.
“I do dance — I don’t do gymnastics,” she says. “So the dancers must be well trained in ballet or contemporary dance. An acrobat doesn’t have the sensibility of a dancer unless he trained as a dancer.
“I don’t think about how high can they jump, but in what I want to create. For me, dance is the art of movement. That’s my medium. Whether they fly or not doesn’t matter to me.”
One of her performers has been with her for 17 years, others as little as three years. Her riggers, who operate the ropes and apparatus in time with the choreography and music in a kind of dance of their own, have been with her a decade or more. The two groups spend hours in rehearsal, and the riggers collaborate with Angiel in figuring out how to achieve what she wants.
“The riggers are almost part of the dance, almost inside of the dance,” she says.
For 8cho she focused on basic elements of tango — the music, the rhythm of the traditional steps, with their whipping turns and slashing legs, the tension between couples, the sensuality and the humor. But she cautions that the piece is not traditional.
“I don’t do tango,” she says. “If I were going to do a real tango I wouldn’t hang the dancers in the air. … The tango is very grounded, and of course we can’t do that.
“What interested me was to turn it around, to do something else while trying to maintain the essence of the traditional tango. To do a tango without doing a tango.”