One of the most exciting works at this year’s Reykjavík Arts Festival is sure to be the performance by California-based dance company BANDALOOP. They are world-famous for using rock climbing technology to dance on the sides of skyscrapers, mountains and convention halls, and this month they will perform on buildings in downtown Reykjavík.
Amelia Rudolph, a dancer who started rock climbing in California’s Sierra Nevadas, founded the company in 1991. She realised that the technology used for rock climbing could offer new and interesting possibilities for dancing in vertical spaces. Now, 24 years later, she is still the director of the company and one of its dancers.
We spoke to Amelia to learn more about BANDALOOP and to find out what they have planned for the Reykjavík Arts Festival.
BANDALOOP is obviously influenced by rock climbing, but does the choreography come from any particular school of thought? Do you think you are influenced by any other choreographers?
When I was young, I trained at the school of the Hubbard Street Dance Company in Chicago in classical ballet. Then I spent many years during and after college learning more modern and post-modern techniques, and contact improvisation. I think the whole influence of contact improvisation had a lot to do with it because when I climbed it felt like the rock itself was the partner in the dance of the climb. I had this sort of mental awareness that you get from contact improvisation and I brought that to climbing.
“I realised that dance could help my climbing, and that the technology of climbing might also offer possibilities for dance.”
Influential in terms of choreographers might be Trisha Brown, Doug Varone. I did dance with Mark Morris one summer at Jacob’s Pillow, but our styles are very different in many ways. I danced one of Trisha Brown’s pieces about two years ago now, called “Man Walking Down the Side of a Building.” I can’t say I had never had seen any of her vertical work when I started doing what I do, but she didn’t actually influence me to go vertical. What did that was the idea as a climber of getting used to those spaces. Later I recognised in terms of the history of dance that Trisha Brown is the sort of grandmother of working site-specifically, especially in vertical space. I guess that’s the answer, those are some of my biggest influences as a choreographer.
How did you become involved in the Reykjavík Arts Festival?
Our organisation has been talking to them for at least three years now. We keep trying to make this happen, and for some reason this year it did. They approached us several years ago, and I know Thomas Cavanagh, our executive director, started to get in conversations with them in the last couple of years, and this is the year that it was possible. We are thrilled to be coming to Reykjavík and I’m actually bringing my family to Iceland. I’m bringing my four-year-old son to go see some of Iceland’s geological wonders, and we’re looking forward to that. We love doing festivals like this, it’s one of the favourite things for all the dancers and myself to be in this international community performing with other artists and we’re thrilled to be coming.
Can you tell me a little bit about what your plans are for the performance here?
Our whole show runs about no more than half an hour. There are three short pieces that we are doing. One is a brand-new piece that’s part of a new work called “Public Canvas.” It’s a quartet that is a counter balance, which is an exciting rigging style where the dancers counterbalance each other through a very dynamic anchor that has a pulley at the top, so as one dancer goes down the other is pulled up. They are very entrusted to one another in the choreography. The project “Public Canvas” basically has to do with a changing urban place here in San Francisco called the “Tenderloin” and “Midmarket” area where the piece is really asking the community to contribute content, which is actually part of a projection piece that goes with this choreography. The choreography itself demonstrates how we are all entrusted to one another and we affect one another: somebody goes up and somebody might go down, and when we are working together all these forces can be managed. There are a lot of embedded metaphors in the simplicity of the choreography and the actual rigging itself.
Then we’re doing a duet called “Shift,” which is a piece that’s probably eight years old to a very subtle, beautiful piece of music by a now deceased singer/composer named Lhasa. It’s a very subtle relational piece. It shows how they are literally doing these very subtle shifts inside the movement and conversing through those. To me it’s about how in a relationship as one person changes or shifts it affects the other person. It’s very smooth and elegant.
The last and final piece is this more form-based piece where all six of us are on the wall, and it’s a sort of wonderful finale because it’s a big dance-y piece. I would say more form-based versus sort of building out of metaphor. Wonderful to watch, a very kinetic group piece.
In the press rider, you give a list of words you do not want us to use. Some of them are “gravity-defying,” “acrobatics,” “twirl” and “circus.” What is the reason behind that?
I have no circus training. We are not acrobats, we are dancers who use rock climbing technology to put dance in unusual environments. I don’t think any of us have any sort acrobatic or circus training. Some of us were trained as gymnasts when we were little, but that’s sort of just a different kind of world.
In 24 years we’ve never had a bad accident, and one of the reasons is because we have huge respect for gravity. She is our most serious partner in what we do, and so we have great reverence for gravity, so we would certainly not defy her. So what I say is we play with the perception of gravity and movement. The work we do is life-affirming, it is not death-defying. It is gravity-respecting, it changes perspective on how you perceive and think gravity is going to affect a dancer.
I don’t hate “twirl,” but until you see the work you’d think we’re Cirque du Soleil or something. Nothing against Cirque du Soleil, but they come out of the circus tradition. Once people see us perform then I think generally they realise, “Oh, they are basically taking postmodern dance or the form of dance and putting it in a different environment.” That doesn’t mean we don’t soar through the air at times, but we try to help the press help us educate our public to understand that the dance company is putting dance in a new space.
See BANDALOOP perform on Aðalstræti 6 (at Ingólfstorg) on May 13 at 17:30.