Aerial Dance Chicago gets Spooky

CHICAGO – Aerial Dance Chicago (ADC)’s loft space off the Irving Park blue line provided an intimate and appropriate setting for Ghost Stories, the company’s fall concert held Halloween weekend and dedicated to all things spooky. Each dance alluded to the battle between good and evil, light and dark, heaven and earth (and perhaps what lies beneath it). Though limited on seats that could see the show from the front, being at home provided ADC’s aerialists an ideal playground; many of the evening’s seven pieces incorporated the unique architecture of the space as they climbed on the walls, bounded against and off the ballet barres and hung from the rafters.

ADC has obviously been busy. All but one piece on this program was entirely new, including five by the company’s leadership: Creative Director Chloe Jensen and Artistic Director Karen Fisher Doyle. While we know to expect strong aerial performances from Jensen and Fisher Doyle, new dancers on the company roster seamlessly blended as though they’d been working in the air for years.

Karen Fisher Doyle’s "The Release of Love"
Karen Fisher Doyle’s “The Release of Love”

The three group pieces on the program successfully demonstrated the cohesion between new and more seasoned company members, although the common themes of death and ghosts and transcendence (plus the ubiquitous use of music by Max Richter) gave them an unintentional through line. Jensen’s The Phantom Beside Me featured Dylan Roth and Sam Crouch in an exquisite duet; the two are dressed in white as the others, in black, try to bring them into their darker realm. They writhe and roll on the floor, in and out of a series of silks like a beautiful exorcism. Tom Mattingly’s Tethered Light used bungies to toss its dancers to and fro. The aerial elements were less prominent in this work, which makes sense considering his primary gig as a concert dance choreographer, but Mattingly rendered something dark and haunted from a medium typically reserved for etherial, heavenly flight. Fisher Doyle’s contribution to the trio of works, The Release of Love, is an allegorical view of purgatory, highlighting the group’s aerial skills but occasionally providing too much to look at. With no “backstage,” a wide stage and draped silks, that Fisher Doyle refused to keep still, the undulating dancers in the background created a distraction from what I assumed to be the more important parts of the dance. Despite the distractions, several moments resonated in this piece – in particular three dancers hanging upside down like sleeping bats, and Jordan Reinwald’s gorgeous, soaring, circular flight eating up nearly the whole stage.

Two solos bookend the evening, performed by aerial tour de force Chloe Jensen. Living Ghost opened the program, with Jensen creeping along the ceiling line from a perch above the dressing room to descend in grand fashion from the rafters. Jensen has and continues to be the gold standard of aerial dance and acrobatics in this city, although the second solo, Fly by Night was a bit of a repeat of the beginning… that is, except for the bold (and unnecessary) choice to don pointe shoes.

Karen Fisher Doyle’s 2008 duet Invisible Web tells the story of a couple haunted by grief. The use of a suspended, revolving hoop gives the sense of being stuck, enforced performers Jensen and Dalton Burr’s repetition of movements. Sandra Kaufmann’s choreography for Death of a Witch could easily translate to a production of MacBeth – its four witches (with phenomenal costumes by Sarah Najera) conjure around an invisible cauldron, using silks, bungies, and a long pole (broom?) to hoist themselves into flight.