Next time some male chauvinist pig questions the strength of womenkind, point him to Ilona Jäntti. The petite aerialist artfully climbed ropes, hung from a trapeze, and spun a web of wires — all without a harness or safety net — in her trio of pieces during Tuesday night’s performance.
The Finnish performer began her show with the rather slow Muualla/Elsewhere, a piece which featured her performing and interacting with a video of whimsical critters. Throughout the performance, Jäntti reacted to the animated video as if she was really there. As she ran toward the critters and away from obstacles like moving bricks, she began to slowly ease the audience into her aerial movements. But when the creatures took to the sea the show really took off. Jäntti’s movements became so fluid, real, and graceful, it was as if she was actually swimming in the ocean. Flipping down a rope and stretching into split after split, there was no question that this girl had the strength and flexibility to wow.
And she had plenty of personality to go with her skills. The final part of Muualla/Elsewhereconsisted of her moving through a house. As she ascended the projected staircase — upside down of course — she moved her head back and forth as if it actually hit each stair.
After a very quick costume change, a large trapeze swing was lowered above the stage — although from where we were sitting it looked as if it hovered over the audience. An old-timey ditty began playing as Jäntti pulled herself onto the swing, dressed in a tutu, and begun her second piece Footnotes. Showing her personality, she batted her eyes and fixed her costume before beginning her performance. And it was breathtaking. We held our breath as she hung high above the stage with only her extended leg touching the bar and holding her up. She shimmied and split her way across the swing, flirting with the sold-out auditorium. At one point, audible gasps rang out as she did a flip that even male gymnasts struggle with at the Olympics. Replacing the rings with the trapeze, she contorted her shoulders to flip her body in a full 360, causing our own shoulders to ache as we anticipated her next moves. A collective sigh of relief went through the audience when her feet returned to the stage.
Gangewifre, an aerial ballet, was her last work, and it included a web of wires, which she pulled and secured on the stage herself. We had already seen many of the moves, as she extended her body to shift up and down the wires. But what got us this time was the strength in her movements. Watching her wiggle across the wires, we saw every muscle in her body contract. It was beautiful.
However, a few times during the performance the music was more distracting than helpful. During the opening piece, we couldn’t tell if it was intentionally scratchy to sound like bug legs walking on the ground like in cartoons or if the sound system was busted. And the final piece had too many literal sound effects. We didn’t need to hear sounds of pulleys or ropes to know that she was climbing.
From our preview with Jäntti, we knew that she wanted her art form to be the star with no need for narration, but we found narration in her other two pieces. The stories were more subtle but still there, which we found helpful in engaging the audience.
And while she didn’t start with a bang— the man to our left was heard saying, “Is that it?” after her first piece only to be stunned to silence by her other two — Ilona Jäntti’s overall performance left us awe-struck.
Ilona Jäntti. Spoleto Festival USA. Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts. 54 St. Philip St. June 4, 3 & 8 p.m., Fri., June 6, 8:30 p.m., Sat., June 7, 12 p.m. and Sun., June 8, 12 p.m. $25-$50