By Matt Larson
Photo Credit: Roel Seeber
The art of dance has been redefined. As has the art of climbing. In a beautiful collaboration of the two, you have the awe-inspiring spectacle that is BANDALOOP. And they’re based right here in Oakland! Imagine looking up at a skyscraper, or a high-rise parking garage, or a cliff in Yosemite, to see it adorned with graceful dancers, harnessed in mid-air, that elegantly choreograph breathtaking performances sometimes hundreds of feet above ground.
A pioneer in vertical dance performances, BANDALOOP has been inspiring audiences ‘round the world since 1991. “I’m a dancer who became a rock climber and that’s kind of how this all happened,” said Amelia Rudolph, Founder and Artistic Director of BANDALOOP. It was while climbing the Sierras when the moment of inspiration struck: what would dance look like in a mountain environment like that? What began as an artistic experiment is now an internationally touring dance company going 25 years strong.
“BANDALOOP brings dance out of it’s traditional trappings of the theater and into a much more public space—like the Oakland City Hall—where anyone and everyone can get turned on to the art of dance,” Rudolph explains. “We make it expectable without dumbing it down. Intrigue with the height and the danger draw people to it, but ultimately they stay for the art.”
Rudolph has taken BANDALOOP to the farthest reaches of the earth and back, from Verona, Italy to Seoul, South Korea to Reykjavik, Ic eland and much, much more, including such historic landmarks as the Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, India and the Puebla Cathedral in Puebla, Mexico. Not to mention all the places across the United States they’ve gone. But they do keep it local as well. You may have just caught their Dec. 1st performance at the Great Wall of Oakland.
One of the greatest things about BANDALOOP transforming an aspect of your city into a performance venue is that it makes you look at that space a little differently. Rudolph describes BANDALOOP rehearsing and dancing on something as common as a parking garage. “No one’s ever noticed the back of this parking garage before,” she said. “Suddenly, it’s activated with this very dynamic and beautiful art form. It transforms the perception of that space.”
Such a response wasn’t necessarily one of Rudolph’s explicit intentions when starting the company, but it has evolved to be a central aspect contributing to the entire purpose of BANDALOOP. “Performing in an everyday space and causing an experience to be shared by a group of people is one of the most magical and powerful things that we do,” she says. “When you go back to that space, you kind of never see it the same way again. And, perhaps, you remember the sense of community that you had while taking in this performance.”
Rudolph has been performing with BANDALOOP for all of its 25 years. We asked her to try and explain what the experience of dancing, while suspended hundreds of feet above the ground, could possibly feel like. “It’s kind of like exquisite pain,” she says. “It takes a lot of strength in your core, your neck, and your back, to be able to dance or jump sideways. But at the same time, it’s the dream of flying that all of us have—soaring through the air, not having the constraints of gravity pulling on you—you actually experience that. It’s phenomenal.”
While the core company consists of about 8 dancers (and 4-5 technical/production staff), Rudolph offers workshops both locally and abroad, wherever they may be traveling, to give others a chance to share in the experience. Locally they work with Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, and also offer regular classes, camps and intensives in their Oakland studio. Plus, they offer corporate training events where co-workers can come together and experience something they most likely haven’t done before.
“Almost always, no one’s ever done this,” said Rudolph. “So everyone is put on the same level.” If your company is in need of some team building exercises, a BANDALOOP workshop is surely a great way to bring your co-workers out of their comfort zones. BANDALOOP instructs students as young as 7 years old in their summer camp, and the oldest person who’s done the workshop with them was 83. So it really is for everyone! Believe it or not.
70% of the time a BANDALOOP performance is free to the public; they still do regular theatrical performances on occasion. If you’re still curious what to expect when attending a BANDALOOP performance, Rudolph puts it like this: “When you see gravity and movement occurring in front of your eyes, in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, and it’s very graceful and beautiful and powerful, I think it can inspire your imagination and your sense of potential. That’s what we’re offering our audiences.”
To keep in touch with all that is BANDALOOP, search for them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram @bandalooping. For information on workshops and upcoming performances, call their studio at (415) 421-5667 or visit http://www.bandaloop.org.