For almost a decade, the aerial arts have been adding airborne aspects of movement to dance and theater in the Twin Cities. The aerial circus arts, of course, whether trapeze or rings, have always incorporated a movement aspect, from gasp-inducing flights between partner and bar high above the ground to little hand flourishes on the successful completion of a trick (ta-da!).
But not until “Trickpony” in 2003, an innovative aerial ballet created by Chelsea Bacon (an aerialist from New York) and Sally Rousse (ballerina and co-founder of James Sewell Ballet) did the captivating possibilities for evocative, poetic, choreographed movement en l’air become real.
Since then, performers like Risa Cohen have created evening-length works of aerial dance. Her “Two Worlds,” part of the 2004 Momentum: New Dance Works series, incorporated silks, steel hoop, rope and harness, Spanish web and triple trapeze — as well as dance on the ground dance — to movement intended to embed aerial work’s singular physicality with metaphorical meaning.
Peter Rothstein has done something similar in two of three pieces that comprise his new musical-theater work, “Passage of Dreams,” which runs through this weekend at the Southern Theater. In the first section, also titled “Passage of Dreams,” aerialist Heather Haugen very simply represents another character’s desire for flight as she swings from a trapeze, the set around her (a box, high up, on stilts) quietly rolling away, leaving her suspended in the air.
In the last section, “Thirst,” Haugen doesn’t appear until the audience has fully grasped the peril of the family on stage: They live — not altogether unhappily — in a somewhat apocalyptic landscape in which rain hasn’t fallen for decades. As the mother recalls raindrops on her skin and the taste of fresh water, and the children yearn for such an unknown experience, Haugen slips down from the ceiling on a long white silk.
As she falls, gathers the tissue around her feet, stretches across space, then binds herself into a sling or cocoon, she expresses the joy and relief of a bright clear rainfall, followed by her refusal to continue in the face of greed. When the family gets it together, realizing best how to express its gratitude for a long-awaited gift of rain, Haugen drops along the fabric from ceiling to floor, like water falling free along the length of a silken rain chain. The meaning in the metaphor is immediate and graspable, even amid the gasps.
“Passage of Dreams.” 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Avenue S., Minneapolis. $26-$30. 612-340-1725.