Birds Overhead, Birds Underground

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Techniques for Landing was riveting on Friday night, merging spoken word with an eclectic soundtrack, movement above our heads and on the floor, and a lighting design that included shadow play. Leslie Castellano’s aerial dance theater piece is based around a myth written and recited by the cast, about birds that built tunnels under the earth, looking for an underground sky. The narrative itself is loose and its imagery, poetic. There is a man from space, there is a woman in a war-torn city, there is love and working together, there is a desire for things, there are the birds who finally fly out of the earth into the sky. A pregnant woman, dancing solidly, and an exquisite performance by a 9-year-boy added an edge of vulnerability. Techniques for Landing is a searching into the heart of what makes us human, a hopeful prayer for finding what may save us.

Castellano premiered the piece last year, and reworked it somewhat for this year’s run, but it retains all of its original power in the connections among the performers, their material and the audience. Castellano inspires devotion from the dance artists who create under her direction in the Synapsis Collective. Their performance space on West Third Street near the water in Eureka is devoid of pretention, small enough to bring the audience into the dance, right into the artists’ working lives

There is an instant union between partners hanging from aerial silks or from trapeze swings. They have to be immersed in each other. Their focus is visceral, along with the bodies themselves in motion … the human form stretched, muscles taut with tension. We all have legs and arms and shoulders and backs. We can feel theirs. Some of the partnering is simply beautiful ─ humans holding onto each other above the ground. Other times it is fascinating, daring or all-out mind blowing, like a man hanging upside down, his feet held only between a woman’s squeezed thighs.

The movement sections down on the ground were compelling in their directness. With birds overhead, half the cast crawled across the floor on their knees, scrubbing with small pieces of red cloth, echoing the red of the hanging silks, bloody after the warring scene. When the group carried bags of rice, food for the birds, scattering this symbol of our commonality, our need to eat, to be fed was apparent. To be fed by food grown on a clean and peaceful planet, to be fed by art like this.

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