ARE WE SUPERHUMAN, OR ARE WE DANCER?

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A dancer in high heels wipes the rain off her chair, before gracefully taking a seat and haughtily adjusting her fluffy skirt. These ordinary gestures become thrilling and even oddly funny when performed 50 feet in the air, precariously dangling from a rope thrown over the side of a building. BANDALOOP’s vertical dancing elicited the astounded oohs and aahs in common with death-defying circus acts, but this production prioritized artistry over stunts in their nonetheless breathtaking production.

Photo by Warren Woo

The Oakland-based company performed Harboring, created by Artistic Director Amelia Rudolph in collaboration with Rachael Lincoln and BANDALOOP’s dancers. Originally mounted at San Francisco’s historic Fort Mason, the work took place at several sites both in and outside of UW’s Meany Center, October 5-8. According to the program notes, the work explored “images of travel, memory, the fluidity of the ocean, rope craft, and the maritime industry,” but I found myself awestruck when simply considering the physics of aerial dance.

Photo by Warren Woo.

During Harboring’s outdoor portion, it was as if the brick face of the building had rotated, the vertical wall transformed into the dance floor. As the dancers launched themselves in elegant pendulum arcs and landed with the ease of cats, I found myself craning my neck to the side as my brain struggled to reorient and reconcile the dancers’ impossible feats. Two dancers performed a ballroom tango, pacing back and forth across the wall, their sharp flips to change direction enhanced by the special abilities of their climbing harnesses. One dancer cartwheeled over the other’s head, hanging on to his shoulders, in an amazing slow-motion crescent. Recognizable dance moves took on new, exciting dimensions as a result of the slight changes necessitated by gravity’s unfamiliar transverse forces. Four other dancers, wearing jumpsuits reminiscent of fighter pilots, stood at attention and then gradually leaned forward or backward, experimenting again with gravity and the nature of fall and recovery. In this novel context, however, dancing in unison presents unique challenges; I marvelled at the dancers’ control, poise and balance. The margin of error is so incredibly reduced, one misplaced footstep or too-forceful push off could completely alter a dancer’s trajectory and timing.

Photo by Warren Woo

Harboring continued inside Meany Center, several vignettes taking place on different riggings. A movement ensemble dressed head to toe in white mingled with the audience, their faces illuminated by lights emanating from underneath their white umbrellas. These volunteers from the local community helped in part to connect the disparate scenes of this lengthy work but more importantly served to smooth the logistical transitions of attaching and detaching dancers from the various apparatuses. Two BANDALOOP dancers wearing white petticoats performed a scrambling duet attached to the same rope on a pulley. As one dancer descended, the other was pulled upward, sometimes fighting one another and sometimes working cooperatively. When an ominous rainstorm sounded and strobe lightning flashed, two other dancers shot out from the sides of the house to swing dangerously over the audience. The eerie musical selections, by Mark Orton and Gideon Freudmann, enhanced the dancers’ illustration of peril.

 

BANDALOOP’s signature “multi-dimensional” style was eventually surpassed the work’s human themes, especially during a notable and poignant duet, entitled Two Point, between Rachael Lincoln and Melecio Estrella. The two dancers faced each other, each connected by two ropes to a swing. Only at the very apex of their curves, could the two dancers reach out across the void separating them, and embrace.

Photo by Warren Woo

In this new setting, swinging and hovering in the air, commonplace movements became fresh and difficult skills became even more amazing. What elevated BANDALOOP’s work from merely entertaining to artistically expressive was the dancers’ performative intention that the ropes and harnesses were only a natural augmentation of their already superhuman abilities. BANDALOOP’s performance also included a dance film shot in Yosemite National Park and a new work, Strings, created during a week residency at the Meany Center this August.

 

For more information on Bandaloop, please visit HERE.

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