Aerial masters

In Portland’s historic Echo Theatre on a Monday morning, six people are standing around in workout clothes. They’ve stretched, chatted – and now they’re intently watching a video of themselves hanging upside down from a huge trellis. As they watch, they copy the video with sinuous movements, singing the hypnotic music. One of them watches for five minutes from a perfectly balanced handstand.

These six people make up Do Jump, a Portland performing troupe that’s been entertaining audiences around North America for 30 years. The group is coming to Tacoma’s Pantages Theater on Friday night.

Mixing acrobatics, aerial work, dance, theater, live music and projected art, Do Jump uses the extreme physical talent of its members to express joy and freedom. Its creativity spills into a kids-and-adults movement theater school at the Echo Theatre, and regular tours to venues like the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and Toronto’s Winterfest.

Most of Do Jump’s success is due to founder and artistic director Robin Lane. Quiet, with silvery hair and a no-nonsense attitude, Lane comes from a background of acrobatics, visual art and dance. She’s the catalyst for each of the troupe’s performance pieces, from the Chagall-inspired, human stained-glass window that the performers are rehearsing to a hammock trapeze act. During rehearsal for the Tacoma show, Lane talked about the art form she’s created.

How do you define Do Jump?

I see it as a form of physicalized theater, made of dance, acrobatics, aerial work, music and humor. It’s pretty human, there’s a large range of emotions, because (the performance) doesn’t come from a technique or medium – it comes from a little thing in the heart of the story. It’s about messing with and challenging what people feel and see, reaching out, communicating.

What will people see in the Tacoma show?

It’s our repertory show, including works from the last 20 years. There are things that are surprising, things that are illusion … a bit like life. There will also be some pieces from the (2003) show “Entusiasmo!”, like an aerial hammock dance, and two pieces from “At such a dizzy height” (2006) inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall.

How do you choreograph each piece?

Since I was a kid I’ve used this (kind of movement) as a form to express things. I have an idea of what I want to say, but it just evolves. We rehearse every day from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. As we go, I get more and more ideas, there’s improvisation … and then we’ll bring in the musicians and we’ll work with them.

Tell us about your music.

We use live music – a band called Klezmocracy that plays about 30 instruments between four people – and original compositions by Joan Szymko. Most of the musicians play with the Portland Symphony. It’s everything from Bach and Stravinsky to jazz and klezmer.

So this isn’t a Cirque du Soleil copy?

It’s nothing like Cirque du Soleil, there’s more form and shape. Do Jump was performing long before the circus revival, long before anyone ever did a cartwheel in modern dance.

In the end, what’s Do Jump about?

There’s a feeling of warmth from the show. There’s a lot of trust, because it’s such a small ensemble. It’s about making people happy, entertaining them, surprising them. Creating a feeling of community.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568