Sunday, February 25, 2024

Review: Artistic Quality Flies High in Hamilton Aerial Group This Is Here

Who: Hamilton Aerial Group
What: This Is Here
Where: Hamilton Waterfront Trust Centre (57 Discovery Drive)
When: February 12 – 15, 2020, beginning at 7pm each evening
Tickets: $30 for adults; children under 10 are free through EventBrite

The Hamilton Aerial Group is extremely popular. Typically, the group only performs in the city a few times a year, so when a public performance is announced, their eager fans rush to acquire tickets, and show up early for the best seats. This lack of knowledge became a liability when I arrived fifteen minutes before the start of the show, as seats in the first two rows were completely occupied and the closest available chairs were in the third row.

Taking place at the Hamilton Waterfront Trust Centre, the Aerial Group’s performance, This is Here, continues the Hamilton Winterfest hub’s theme of water and the integration of mankind and nature. Based upon the book of poetry, Falling Into Place by Hamilton writer John Terpstra, This is Here explores the relationship of mankind with the landscape of a city and its alteration of the physical landscape. Projections of water droplets repeatedly appear on screen throughout the production.

The performance starts with a single being, emerging from a cocoon like a caterpillar overtop a wall of projections that display blossoming flowers and John Terpstra’s text. When fully emerged, this being passes light, life and possibly judgement on the performers below, as it remains ever-present, watching over the remainder of the performance. However, this God-like figure overtop of the projections is sometimes difficult to see due to the physical layout of the room and their physical presence both above and to the side is always slightly removed from the remainder of the performance space. It is easy to forget that this figure, and the projections that narrate the story, exist unless turning to look directly at it, leaving the two pieces of this story (movement and projections) feeling somewhat disjointed.

Music is a continuous presence throughout the work. Continuing the theme, frequent Aerial Group collaborator, Dave Gould is joined by Cesar Correa to cleverly combine sounds of nature with ambient echoes and traces of electronica in a pulse that grows and fades in intensity. A language is spoken, although words are never entirely clear, but the performers communicate their meaning with intent.

Lighting, costumes and even the coordination of the colours of the equipment are well-thought out to coordinate with the nature theme intended by the Aerial Group. The light sculptures, provided by Melanie Skene, another longtime collaborator, brings an other-worldly element to the production when they appear onstage. No artistic detail is too small to be considered, and the group presents a beautifully polished work executed by highly talented and disciplined performers. Another longstanding collaborator, Tanis MacArthur created all the costumes. Like all performance and production elements involved in This is Here, the significance of the collision between nature and mankind’s alteration to it are made abundantly clear and are visible in the artistic choices made throughout the show.  

With so much rigging and equipment as well as a minimum of half a dozen performers, The Aerial Group requires a large amount of space for their productions. The Hamilton Waterfront Trust provides this needed space to the Group; however, the flaws of the venue became apparent early on in the production. In past performances by the Aerial Group, audiences have sat on the ground while performers are overhead, or alternately, in very long rows where most (if not all) seats are in the first or second row. This works well at a space like The Cotton Factory (the Hamilton Aerial Group’s homebase), where there is ample room for a performance alongside just a row or two of chairs for the audience.

However, within the Waterfront Trust building with multiple rows of seats, sitting in the third row meant that all floor work done by the Hamilton Aerial Group was not able to be seen. More than half the screen containing projections was also not visible, nor was the work of a solo silk performer. This is unfortunate, as a large portion of the production, including some climatic moments, were based on contemporary movement at the ground level. Text, particularly at the end, grew to be increasingly important and of focus; however, its meaning was lost without being able to be read in its entirety.

The Hamilton Aerial Group has proven itself time and time again to be creative and incredible storytellers. This is Here is no exception, and the thoughtful artistic vision of the Group has ensured that the story they’ve created around John Terpstra’s text can be brought to life. However, I wish equal care had been given to some of the logistical aspects (such as seating arrangements), so I could have been able to see more of the production. While this blog doesn’t explicitly recommend productions, I would caution that should you decide to attend, arrive very early to ensure a good seat and avoid disappointment.

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