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Flash Review 2, 9-11:
... And the Face of America, TM
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2000 Aimee Tsao
VIENNA, Virginia -- When
I made plans to visit friends near Washington, DC this fall, one
of them suggested we catch the aerial dance company Project Bandaloop
at Wolf Trap, not far from their home in Virginia. Diligent Dance
Insider that I am, I figured it might be interesting to review it
as well. What I assumed to be a normal performance turned out Friday
to be a far larger production than I could have imagined.
Wolf Trap Foundation
for the Performing Arts has joined forces with the National Park
Service to create a new series, Face of America TM. Each year Wolf
Trap will partner with a different National Park to produce performances
that help the American public understand that the parks are more
than just vacation spots; they have historical importance for the
people who live and have lived in and around them. Face of America
TM endeavors to reflect this country's cultural and natural heritage.
For the premiere collaboration in the series, Yosemite Park in California
was chosen, and to pay homage to the Native Americans who lived
there, the American Indian Dance Theatre was selected to perform
at Wolf Trap. The National Park Service staff at Yosemite then recommended
Project Bandaloop as well, as it included some of the most respected
climbers at Yosemite. More about that aspect later.
The evening opened with
the American Indian Dance Theatre performing a series of traditional
dances. The dancers' intense performance and what appeared to be
their surrender to a trance state was compelling and hypnotic, made
even more so by the accompaniment of live drumming and chanting.
Unfortunately, I was put off by the intermittent use of recorded
music by Robbie Robertson that bordered on New Age appropriation,
a few glitzy costumes with lots of sequins and satin, and the dry
ice clouds. For me, the globalization of the Las Vegas-Disney aesthetic
makes it all the more imperative to preserve authentic art forms
and protect them from the rapidly spreading fusion forms.
I applaud Wolf Trap for
taking the risk of commissioning Project Bandaloop to create "Luminescent
Flights," an aerial piece set in Yosemite Park. Programming at Wolf
Trap tends to the more traditional mainstream fare and Bandaloop's
artistic director, Amelia Rudolph, included a note in the program
to express her gratitude to the Wolf Trap Foundation for supporting
such unusual work.
uses a mixture of high definition television (HDTV) footage projected
onto three large screens and live performance of some of the same
choreography with variations. The shots of Yosemite were nothing
less than magnificent. Nature's grandeur cannot really be matched
by anything. (I had been reminded of that only five days before
at the new Rose Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in
New York City.) The group of five dancing on broad ledges high above
the valley floor seemed to be communing with nature in much the
same way that the American Indian dancers had. That the choreography
wasn't all particularly interesting paled beside the breath-taking
surrounding scenery and the sense of reverence for the Universe.
The spectacular portion of the piece was the video of the dancers
suspended by climbing ropes 2500 feet above the Yosemite Valley
floor. By having the spectators rotate their field of view ninety
degrees with respect to gravity -- that is, looking straight down
the face of the rock wall -- the dancers appeared to be jumping,
leaping and running as if they were on the moon, in slow motion
fluidity. The music by Robert Mirabal was uneven, moving from hauntingly
beautiful solo Native American flute to the eclectic sections for
mixed ensemble (cello, flute, guitar, bass, percussion) that I found
Again, the weak link
was the actual choreography. However, I do not really fault Project
Bandaloop. Given that it is a small company where, with the exception
of the artistic director, all the dancers still must work day jobs,
time for taking class and rehearsing is severely limited. Because
the technical demands of aerial work also involve a lot of time,
there isn't much left over to devote to the development of complex
choreography. I wonder what would happen in this country if the
arts were as heavily funded as the military or scientific research.
With all the time that could be bought with generous funding, these
and other artists would be able to dedicate themselves to the development
of their art forms and we could expect to see some astonishing work.
The two other Bandaloop
pieces on the program were "Bach Wall," to music of Bach, performed
on a climbing wall with evenly spaced purchases, and "TriTangoMetro,"
danced suspended on ropes ten to fifteen feet above the stage to
music by Raymond Granlund, played live by the composer on piano,
with Zachary Isaac Carretin on violin. While the audience found
the form novel and loved it, as a more seasoned observer of aerial
dance (and circus aerial acts) I found the choreography quite lackluster
and pedestrian. There was not a great variety in the steps used
and there was a lot of room for more nuance and polish in the execution.
The importance of the performance, and I do not underestimate that,
was in introducing relatively new forms to a mainstream audience.
Project Bandaloop certainly succeeded in that as it received a very
enthusiastic standing ovation.
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