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You might not know the name, but chances are you’ve seen it. Think Cirque de Soleil—graceful women (and some men) twirling high in the air, suspended by long strips of silk. That’s aerial dance, a movement form that’s gotten popular over the past decade. Sure, it’s beautiful, sexy, even jaw-dropping—but is it art?
Andrea Burkholder and Sharon Wittig, founders of D.C.’s Arachne Aerial Arts, have been grappling with that question since they began dancing together 10 years ago. Both women started out in modern dance, where choreographers regularly make Big Statements about existence, and aimed to bring some of that relevance to a form that’s better known for its circus-arts acrobatics.
“A goal for us from day one has been changing how aerial dance is perceived and comes across,” says Burkholder. “We’re trying to figure out how to perform for a more varied audience.”
That’s resulted in some experiments over the years. There was the 2006 Fringe Festival collaboration with a sound and video artist, and a partnership last year with a piano quartet.
For “Mixed Use Space,” the company’s show at Dance Place this weekend, the duo decided on a new tack: bringing in other dancers. Enter Tzveta Kassabova, a Bulgarian-born dancer and choreographer known around the area for her original and sophisticated style. Plus, says Burkholder, “she’s very brilliant visually.” With so much movement occurring onstage, that’s key; otherwise things could get pretty busy.
Think of it as another experiment. The performers, both on the ground and flying, will be focusing on a sense of place—specifically that of Dance Place, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Beyond that, though, there aren’t too many ground rules.
“There was a lot of discussion rather than rehearsing,” says Burkholder of the collaboration. “It’s one evening event, but two different companies with two different tasks.”
Ideally, the pairing will be one of those serendipitous peanut butter-meets-chocolate moments. But even if the melding of the two movement styles isn’t quite so seamless, it should at least be a fully three-dimensional experience.
Performances are Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. $22 ($17 for artists, students, and seniors).
Photo by Tom Kocher