Who needs three rings when you have two dimensions?
Ilona Jantti's American premiere at the Emmett Robinson Theatre last night proved that technology could turn a circus performance into something even more stimulating and graceful.
The Finnish aerialist's production is the second physical theater piece in the Spoleto lineup, following Gravity & Other Myths. But instead of performing in a group, Jantti is a one-person circus who augments her choreography and more traditional aerial acts with multimedia and creative use of space.
The show was made up of three parts, each using different props. In "Muualla/Elsewhere," Jantti interacted with a projection designed by Tuula Jeker. Though the changes between each animated scene were a bit choppy and the projections told a slightly ambiguous narrative, the media created a different dimension and offered the aerialist an alternative stage. The whimsical animations also lend the performance more color.
Jantti twisted herself onto a rope and swiftly climbed up a fictional staircase on the screen; while in another scene, she fell to the ground when a mischievous cartoon bounced upon the branch she was pretending to sit on.
Even in the less technologically innovative pieces, Jantti used lighting and music to convey the emotions in her show. "Footnotes" had the aerialist dangle and swing on an elongated trapeze to a scratchy old opera playing in the background. A circle of light with uneven edges illuminated her and shone faintly against the stage curtain.
The sound and light together built an eerie, uncanny atmosphere that made the circus act seem even more daunting. This was the only act in which the aerialist performed in old-fashioned circus attire.
Similar usage of the two elements was seen in "Gangewifre," which is an old English word for spider. In this aerial ballet, an ongoing deep rumble established the tension from the very beginning. Jantti created her own web of ropes that hung from the stage ceiling, and then weaved through the complicated map to a steady electronic beat and mechanical sounds. An enlarged shadow of the aerialist projected on the stage curtain added to the uneasiness.
Though some moves seemed to deviate from the music cues, and awkward short intermissions separated the three parts, Jantti took the humorous spirit of circus performance to a new level with the use of technology. Hints of fragility were weaved into the playfulness, and her performance took the art seriously.
Jantti will be performing at the Emmett Robinson Theatre through June 8.
Olivia Yang is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.