When we talk about love, we often use falling as a metaphor, though in fact the experience is as much one of rising: a heady sensation of weightlessness, a dizzying, unexpected buoyancy. In their latest show, Je T’aime, longtime collaborators Daughter of Zion and DramaDogs acknowledge the levity of love, exploring the theme through aerial dance. At first they are grounded, using the floor of their black box theater as they set the stage with stories of romance and family love. Then – using slings, harnesses, ropes, bungees, and pulleys – they rise above the stage, dramatizing some of love’s other guises: giddy playfulness, interdependence, manipulation, vulnerability.
DramaDogs directors and married couple E. Bonnie Lewis and Ken Gilbert have been collaborating with Daughter of Zion director Rina van de Kamp for years, and their shared experience shows in the smooth blend of dance and theater they’re now producing. There’s a natural flow between movement and dialogue in this show, helped along by Michelle Osborne (stage name Mishiva), the cabaret-style emcee who appears in one fabulously flamboyant costume after another to guide the audience between numbers. In a rich, velvety voice, Mishiva sings of every kind of love, always with a dramatic flourish to her entrances and exits.
Lewis and Gilbert open the show with a duet that illustrates the stages of romance, from early attraction through conflict and into deep affection. Lewis follows with “Frieda,” a moving, autobiographical monologue about her grandmother, and also debuts her choreographic work on aerial apparatus: “Cradle Me.” In pieces like “Toe to Tow” and “Up lift-Her,” the technical skill and pure strength required for aerial dance are on full display, while Gilbert’s trio “Women” is a much softer vision of earthly femininity. Some of the sections of the show read like studies or works in progress, others like completed works. In both cases, there’s quality of discovery here, as if the performers themselves are ready to be taken by surprise at any moment.
It’s obvious from the way these artists move and interact that they’ve developed the show collaboratively, through improvisation and play. For a company of five, there’s extraordinary range in terms of dramatic skills, movement qualities, age, gender, and body type. Each section of the show highlights another facet of the company’s collective talent. When lanky Courtney Trouman lifts off and soars in circles for the show’s charming closing number, “Chick Flick,’ love is in the air. Like love itself, her joyful dance takes hard work, but she makes it look like the easiest thing in the world.