A man in a black unitard tumbles 20 feet from the ceiling in a flurry of red fabric, the silk catching him around the waist just a few feet above the floor. The performers behind him burst out laughing, interrupting the last notes of guitar music as he untangles himself.

“I ended up in booty,” the man in black says, referencing the troupe’s slang name for the aerial position he performed.

Feats such as this seem routine for the members of AirDance New Mexico, a performance company that combines aerial circus arts, such as trapeze, with traditional dance that is then brought to life through theatrical expression, with elements of rock climbing thrown in as well.

Company founder Debra Landau said the troupe’s upcoming show includes choreography where performers fall from the ceiling to the floor, and everywhere in between.

“Our show is called ‘Fear of Falling,’ but in general we like to avoid that particular f-word, being falling,” she said.

The black-clad performers climb in and out of a latticed wood structure adorned with rock-climbing handholds, one of the many contraptions Landau said she’s been inspired to create throughout her artistic career.

She said the group develops its choreography and its equipment spontaneously, and that every member of the troupe is involved.
“There’s only one piece that I call my own choreography. The rest is created by all of us,” she said. “I bring something out and instead of them going, ‘Oh, I don’t know, that’s kind of scary,’ or ‘It hurts’ — all the aerial stuff hurts, there’s just no getting around it — they start creating all this new stuff.”

Landau said the opening piece is a tribute to Dante’s “Inferno.” Performers drag each other across the floor in a writhing mass of bodies, their faces contorted in anguished expressions. Landau said performers are able to do this because most members of the troupe identify more as actors and actresses than circus performers or dancers.

“I think that’s part of how we came up with the personification of emotion, because they can show that even when they’re not speaking,” she said. “Not just with their bodies, but with their faces as well.”

Landau said she tries to switch the typical gender roles created by acrobatics.

“I love it when a woman lifts a man or lifts somebody else who you don’t quite expect,” she said.

Although these experienced performers make their feats of strength look effortless, troupe member and UNM student Joanna Furgal said it’s not as easy as it looks.

“One of the hardest parts is making it look like gravity doesn’t apply to you,” Furgal said. “Everything hurts, there’s not really anything comfortable. The silks will burn you, the trapeze will bruise you, the wall gives you splinters, so we’re always pretty bruised-up, but serious injuries are pretty rare.”

Furgal sits on some blue mats in the corner, biting her lip as she wraps a fabric ice pack around her left shoulder. As she pops some ibuprofen, she explains that she tweaked her shoulder because of a miscommunication between performers. But she said communication is not usually a problem.

“You have to trust each other if you’re going to hang upside down with one foot from somebody else’s leg,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t see each other, or the music’s loud, so you can’t always make eye contact before you do a trick. You have to breathe together and know what the other person’s going to do. So we’re definitely close.”

With more than five people maneuvering at the same time on a triple trapeze they call “the Beast,” Furgal said it’s hard to not be close to each other, physically and emotionally.

Landau said the troupe created twice as much choreography as necessary for its upcoming show, which is a good problem to have.
“A lot of my job is not so much creating choreography, but paring it down,” she said. “‘Thank you, that’s great, but stop being creative.’ It’s one of our jokes – ‘stop having fun.’”

Fear of Falling: An Evening of Aerial Dance and Theater
Friday Feb. 10
Saturday Feb. 11
8 p.m.
Sunday Feb. 12
2 p.m.

General admission $12, Children $8, Children under 8 years old free
AirDance ArtSpace
3030 Isleta Boulevard S.W.
Tickets available at the door (cash or check only).
Call 505-842-9418 to reserve tickets in advance.