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Jack Anderson

Breaking Surface

"Breaking Surface"
Presented by AiRealistic at Theater for the New City,
155 First Avenue at Tenth Street, East Village
Through March 23, 2013
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, March 22, 2013

Gwyneth Larsen dances on wires,
dripping water from an onstage pool,
in "Breaking Surface."

Bodies descended from the heavens and seemingly solid objects became weightless to rise up and whirl through the air in "Breaking Surface," the acrobatic aerial dance-theater work Gwyneth Larsen and William Mulholland created for their company, AiRealistic. What they made you see often defied expectations not only of how the law of gravity is supposed to operate, but also of what theatrical combinations of dance and acrobatics look like.

The idea of such combinations is a good one, for it promises a union of two kinds of spectacle and, hence, an enriched theatrical experience. But what too often results is a production weighted down by stuff: harnesses, trapezes, tightropes, trampolines and platforms that make what should be an experience of lightness look heavy and all actions contrived. "Breaking Surface," in contrast, floats. It often does so quite literally, for the stage is flooded to become a shallow pool of water into which performers land. And whereas some aerial productions turn into nothing more than collections of stunts, this one has a plot.

A muse, Gwyneth Larsen, visits a writer, Aidan O'Shea, who is seated among floating pages in
an onstage pool. Photo by Adele Bossard.

I’m not exactly sure what story it’s trying to tell, but there’s obviously a plot going on. A man (Aidan O'Shea) is seen sitting in a chair with a book. Perhaps he is absorbed in reading. Or, since the pages are blank, he is a writer in search of ideas. Water starts flooding the stage, making the pages soggy. The boundaries of the firm and definite are gradually erased and O'Shea is visited by a muse (Larsen). Water nymphs appear, along with their male partners. The book eventually grows enormous and O'Shea leaps into it, bursting through its pages to continue journeying into enchanted places.

Small paper boats metamorphose into giant vessels.
L-R: Angelica Kushi, Benjamin E Oyzon, Rebecca Magazine,
Dusty Giamanco, Aidan O'Shea.

There are several magical touches, as when small white paper boats (an incarnation of O'Shea's book pages?) glide across the stage guided by dancers who might be zephyrs or guardian angels. They start glowing in the dark and moments later are metamorphosed into giant vessels bearing O'Shea and companions into realms unknown. And always there are aerial feats. To watch a chair whizzing in mid-air is mind-boggling enough. But even more remarkable are the ways people swoop, glide and spin through space to music by Trevor Exter, John Kimock, John Oyzon, Antonio Pinto and David Troy Francis. When dancers come to the ground, it’s not solid ground, for they land in the pool, sending sprays of water scattering to all sides and glowing iridescently in Ali Lucas’s lighting. Of course, the performers are attached to harnesses and the rigging is visible. But it’s never intrusive. Incidents flow into one another so smoothly and with such a sense of progression that one is more aware of dramatic development (even though it is often cryptic), than of a demonstration of ingenious equipment.


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