|Photo by Mauro Dann|
Buenos Aires-based choreographer Brenda Angiel draws from elements of tango, hip-hop, and modern dance, taking them into the air and up the wall in her innovative style of aerial dance. But her dancers' movement and safety would not be possible without the strength, talent, and extreme concentration of three key members of the company: Andrés Puertas, Laura Casalongue, and Alejo Gago, the riggers.
The company is in town this week as part of BAM and the State Department's dance diplomacy initiative DanceMotion USAsm, performing in the Next Wave Festival with New York-based company Doug Varone and Dancers. We caught up with the Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company rigging team to talk harnesses, carabiners, and exactly how one becomes an aerial dance rigger.
How did you start working as a rigger and how did that lead you to dance?
Andrés Alejandro Puertas: I’ve been a climber for over 15 years now, and now I have a climbing gym in Buenos Aires called Realization. I run the gym, and do rigging for aerial and theater shows. I started working with Brenda’s company 10 years ago.
Laura Sofia Casalongue: I joined the company in 2006. I’m an actor, and I started taking aerial dance classes at school to complement my acting training. Then the company presented a work at the Konex Theater (in Buenos Aires) and they needed a tech assistant, and years later I learned how to rig and ended up being part of the crew.
Alejo Gago: I played in trees a lot as a kid, and I lived in a nautical neighborhood, so you could say my contact with ropes and cords started there. Later on, I ventured into climbing, and started working with Brenda through a friend. Doing rigging for dance is artistically gratifying, which you don’t get from other kinds of rigging work.
How is working with Brenda’s company different from working with other aerial companies?
Andrés: The main difference between working with Brenda’s company and other companies is that we have a more old school rigging design. We operate manual cords, with non-motorized or -automated systems, which makes us have a greater and more direct relationship with the dancers and the art. As a result, we get to collaborate with the artistic elements of the show. In other types of shows our work would be more tied to special effects and not necessarily the art itself.
Laura: My only experience as a rigger has been with Brenda’s company. I like the work a lot because the group dynamic is excellent and it has allowed me to travel to different places around the world, participate in international festivals, and meet interesting people.
|Photo by Reuben Kleiner|
How has working with Brenda’s company changed the way you see dance?
Alejo: Working with the company has exposed me to the world of dance, which I was not familiar with beforehand—both the incredible dancers and styles beyond just tango.
Andrés: I think that working with cords and the rigging systems allows for movements and perspectives that you don’t usually see in dance, or the little that I know about dance, that is. Brenda’s work also differs from other aerial shows in that it is more theatrical.
How many dancers is each rigger in charge of during a show?
Andrés: During the show we work behind the scenes. Clipping in the artists before they go on stage, making sure the harnesses are on correctly, and checking that the rigging systems are set for each moment. Then we make sure the cords come on at the same time as the dancers and we work to suspend them at the specific height marks and raising or lowering the dancers depending on the choreography and moments of the show. We have between one and two dancers per rigging system and up to five dancers hanging simultaneously.
|The rigging system|
Can you explain a bit how the harness system works?
Alejo: We’re talking about harnesses designed especially for Brenda that are clipped in by each of us with carabiners or buckles before the dancers are suspended.
Andrés: The harnesses allow them to have the liberty of movement that the choreography requires. An automatic triple action carabiner connects the harnesses to the cords. The harnesses are an exclusive design that Brenda thought up and there are various types: for the hands, chest, and waist. They basically work with conveyor systems that connect to the cords through an automatic triple locking carabiner. We use integral harnesses for the vertical work.
What safety precautions do you take before a show?
Laura: Before the show starts, we clip in to the mounted rigging systems and leave everything set and ready for the beginning of the show. Also, before the dancers go on stage, we do a test to make sure the harness system and carabiners are set up correctly. During the development of the work we have to be very aware of anything that might come up and resolve it in the moment.
What is the scariest thing that has ever happened?
Laura: The truth is that nothing “scary” has happened—luckily!—but there have been a few funny bloopers!
Andrés: Luckily in this work and with this company in particular, nothing. Let’s hope it stays that way! Ensuring that nothing dangerous or bad happens is part of my job, and what they hire me for!
What has been your favorite experience in this work?
Andrés: What I enjoy most about this work is designing the rigging systems and structures in order to create what Brenda wants—be it structures to work on building façades or systems to create movements that she requests. I don’t have a favorite piece—every time there’s a performance, it’s a new challenge with its own complications, solutions, and satisfactions. The greatest satisfaction comes after the design and days of set-up and mounting, seeing the show come together and the audience go crazy after having seen it.
Laura: We’re all in communication via intercom, generally all of the riggers and Brenda.
How do you negotiate timing with the dancer’s movement?
Laura: You have to be very focused during the performance. The rehearsals help a lot to get us used to what the dancers need in a given moment, so we already know if they’re at the ideal height to move, for example.
Alejo: We have to learn the music and their movements in order to know when they’re comfortable dancing or when they need a height correction, which is important for their movement and their safety.
Andrés: We try to adapt ourselves to the dancers and try to deliver the precision they need. We’re not always able to do so, and the truth is that one centimeter more of height or one centimeter less makes a huge difference to them.
Alejo: The level of concentration required in every aspect of the performance, which you can’t break regardless of how beautiful the dancing is. We have to be aware of what is going on and what is going to happen next. The most critical moments are the scene changes.
Andrés: Not losing sight of the fact that safety should always come first. Everything we do should always happen within certain parameters of safety—operation, clip-ins, mounting, etc.
And finally, what do you love most about Argentina that you would want to share with someone who has never been there?
Alejo: The quality of the people is beautiful and the asado (Argentine BBQ) is something I’m already missing.
Andrés: Haha, everything I think: its rhythm, its people, its food, its night, its streets… I think there are incredible places throughout the entire country.
Laura: What I love most about Argentina, and specifically about Buenos Aires (where I live), is the people, drinking mate with friends, riding bikes around the city at night, its bars, its diversity—it’s a city that never stops, there’s always something to do or see, or somewhere to be!