Monday, February 4, 2013

"The Window"...Elizabeth Williams

Here at SERVINGCHOREO, I am always on the lookout for choreographers who value the importance of fluid transitions and movement justification. In this stunning piece of aerial dance, choreographer and Cirque Du Soleil artist, Elizabeth Williams, literally builds her art from the ground up. Working from the lowest possible level and then gradually ascending high into the air, Elizabeth carefully crafts a cohesive and luscious experience that comes full circle for the audience. The movement is never incongruent to the moment, the breath informs every shift of weight, and her lines allow her to express a deep and textured story. For more info on Elizabeth's work, please visit

MUSICALITY: Aerial dance has long had the unfortunate reputation of being "trick" based and overly dependent on the "ta da" factor. Hokey circus acts would perform in a highly indicative and obvious manner, essentially begging for the audience to applause. However, nouveau circus aesthetic sought to change this by blurring the fourth wall and, in many ways, turning the audience into voyeurs who witness a private moment in the air. Elizabeth skillfully demonstrates this dynamic, by inviting the viewer into her world and giving them permission to observe her detailed and nuanced performance. One thing that I admire about Elizabeth's style, is her ability to carefully edit the movement and accent the moments that really need to be emphasized, as opposed to choreographic overkill. She understands the power of adding the RIGHT amount of embellishment, instead of trying to accessorize ad nauseum. She chooses subtle points like (0:54-0:57) and (1:32-1:35) and (2:35-2:37) to synthesize the simple piano motif in her body, first with her hands and then with her legs. Since choreography is, at its core, about making a series of choices, Elizabeth's judicious selections show maturity and confident artistry.

DANCER SYNC: Much like traditional ground-based dance forms, aerial dance depends on the choreographer's ability to place the body in a supported position at all times. This is doubly important for dancers who work in the air, since the slightest misstep can cause a catastrophic fall or injury. Elizabeth expertly "hides the preparation" for many of her extended acrobatic sequences. Notice how she uses a crossed legged bind to set up a ronde jambe to hanging side flag suspension at (1:50-1:58), creating a seamless, smooth transition from sitting to hanging. At times, she even paints a picture of contorted immobility, only to unfold a perfectly coordinated final extension (3:54-3:59). This type of mindful sequencing shows her commitment to dancer safety, without sacrificing artistic integrity.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: As I mentioned before, the visual construction of this piece is highly organized and thoughtfully executed. The audience might not even realize that the majority of the dance will occur high above the ground, since the movement begins at such a low perspective. Working with videographer J. Dooling, Elizabeth smartly decided to begin with the chalk on the ground, ascending to the fingers, exploring the mid-level with lunges and contractions, elevating onto the pointe shoes, and then finally rising into the air. The piece reaches its literal climax at (3:13-3:15) when Elizabeth ventures to the highest point of the apparatus, and immediately begins the descending resolution back to earth. Notice that piece ends in the same place it begins, from earth to heaven and back again.

KUDOS to Elizabeth for crafting a genuinely spell-binding dance, that is wholly artistic as it is safe and well-constructed.

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