Dance Companies Save Money
featured photo

Go back to Flash Reviews

Go Home

Flash Review 2, 9-11: Dancing Yosemite
... And the Face of America, TM

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2000 Aimee Ts’ao

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.

"Luminescent Flights" 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 distracting.

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.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home