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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 13, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 41
Bandaloop presents a beautiful aesthetic for the aerial dance form
Arts & Entertainment
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Bandaloop presents a beautiful aesthetic for the aerial dance form

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

WORLD DANCE SERIES
BANDALOOP
MEANY CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
October 5


The Bandaloop website describes this company of dancing mountaineers as 'use[ing] climbing technology to expand and challenge what is possible.' Founder and Artistic Director Amelia Rudolph adds: 'They say what we do is death-defying. I'd say it's life-affirming.' Though I never thought the recent performance at Meany Hall was death-defying, the film they showed before the performance, Shift - filmed on mountainsides in Yosemite National Park - really raised the hair on my head. Not only was it an awe-inspiring display of courage, beauty, and very thoughtful choreography - it was scary.

The film is a perfect blend of elegant dance and behind-the-scenes reality show - we see all the apparatus, set-up, and crew who make the aerial performance possible, together with the dancers themselves, who perform their moves on flat surfaces and then again on rock faces with spectacular sunsets and scenery behind them. I was especially moved by moments when a dancer in the foreground is performing moves that are precisely repeated by a dancer on a distant peak, as if there might be an eternal dance on all the mountain peaks in the world. There were other moments when a group of six performers are dancing at a 90° angle on the side of a mountain - a miracle in itself - and then suddenly leap in the air on their ropes and begin to weave themselves in and out in slow motion. It not only defies death, it defies imagination - how on earth did they do it? Or, I should say, how not-on-earth did they do it?

My dance buddy and I were speechless after seeing Shift, which I hope will be available to the general public at some point. We hurried outside with the rest of the crowd to see 'Harboring,' a dance that began on the side of Meany Hall - the outside wall - where a chair was suspended as if the wall were a dance floor. A flirty couple in party clothes did a sideways swing dance as if they were upright, followed by a lovely girl in a party dress who descended on a rope and sat down in the chair as if it were perfectly natural to be sitting cockeyed to the rest of the world. While the performances that followed were charming and novel, 'Harboring' was a bit of a come down after Shift - more of a Cirque du Soleil-type surprise than the incorporation of movement and landscape presented in Shift.

'Harboring' continued inside with a very surprising aerial dance that took place over the heads of the audience; that, together with the plant-like projections on the walls, created the impression that the audience was at the bottom of a sea where mermaids were swimming above. At another point there was a couple swirling around each other in the air like Paolo and Francesca in the first ring of L'Inferno. This dance was impressive, but not as intriguing as the new work developed through the UW Creative Fellowship initiative, 'Strings,' making its world premiere in this program. The unforgettable opening image, of a women attached to five bunraku-style puppeteers with bright red strings, begins a dance of manipulation and control involving a life-sized cat's cradle, and demonstrates that Bandaloop does not need to be airborne to create vivid, dangerous choreographic images. A woman in red suddenly descends like an avenging angel and initiates a series of movements that flirt with the earthbound puppet - a drama between the two realms of earth and sky. The dance develops to the compelling modernist music of Gabriel Prokofiev - grandson of the composer Sergei Prokofiev - who creates a sound cloud for these airborne dancers to swim through.

I was wondering, as the dances progressed, what vocabulary has developed around this integration of traditional dance and climbing movement. In many places the dancers pirouette - but in the middle of the air, and so slowly they appear to be in another medium. Other moves, such as balances and arabesques, are either impossible, irrelevant, or so altered as to be something entirely different. I felt that the range of movement, while surprising, was more limited on ropes, and that once we saw the dancers' amazing swoops and summersaults and upside-down poses there was, literally, no place to go. Amelia Rudolph and her amazing dancers - as well as the invisible riggers whose manipulation of ropes from above make so many of their gestures possible - have developed an aesthetic for the aerial form that holds many promises for the future. For me, that future was most beautifully expressed in the astonishing dances in the film, Shift. I hope that the imagination that came up with that brilliant film infuses the same mystery and astonishment in future works for live audiences.

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