Dance Review: Bandaloop defies gravity at Oz Arts Nashville

bandaloop1It stands to reason that a vertical dance company would know a lot about the heavens. So the dancers of Bandaloop no doubt had a keen sense that it was safe to start their Oz Arts Nashville performance outdoors on Friday night, despite the clear threat of rain.

These terrific Oakland, Calif.-based dancers have been dodging raindrops in Music City all week. Last Monday, the daring high-wire artists found a break in the clouds and thrilled downtown pedestrians with an exhilarating performance alongside the 28-story UBS Tower. On Friday at Oz, the group, under the direction of Amelia Rudolph, gave the Nashville premiere of its popular repertory piece Harboring. The performance repeats at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11.

For Bandaloop, a performance is a kind of journey, one that should engage the viewers’ minds and feet. So on Friday night, the audience was asked to move several times, following white-clad ushers – who served as the company’s Greek chorus – from one part of Oz to another. In each locale, audience members were treated to thoughtful, stimulating and oftentimes humorous dance.

Rudolph’s innovation was to fuse climbing and rappelling with modern dance, creating in the process a breathtaking blend of spectacle and art, sport and dance. A kind of environmental art, the company’s works are site-specific, altering slightly in response to different venues. Naturally, Bandaloop wanted to explore all of the converted warehouse that now houses Oz. So Friday’s performance began outdoors, with the audience seated in chairs and bleachers outside Oz’s entrance.

Rappelling down the side of a corrugated metal wall, the dancers presented three all-too-brief outdoor vignettes. The first, a charmer called “Travelers,” featured dancers Roel Seeber and Jessica Swanson performing a kind of gravity-defying Lindy Hop to the music of Count Basie and His Orchestra. Rudolph followed with a solo titled “Daydreaming at the Station,” which called on the dancer to rappel gracefully off of chair. In “Container Quartet,” Melecio Estrella, Meghan Mullin, Courtney Moreno and Andrew Ward engage in elegant movements that call to mind space walking. In all the vignettes, the dancers’ feet were usually planted along the side of the building, giving the audience the sense that it was watching the dancers from above.

twopointJust before Friday night’s downpour began, the audience followed the chorus inside Oz to watch a dance with the serendipitous title “Storm.” Set to the sound of a storm, the work features four dancers who appear to be struggling to reach one another in a rough sea. Dancers rappelled rapidly up and down the performance space, as if being tossed about in the waves.

The emotional heart of Friday’s performance was a duet called “Two Point.” At first, Meghan Mullin and Melecio Estrella seem to dance in place, unaware of the other’s existence. Once the discovery is made, their movements become increasing energetic, even frantic. Both dancers performed as if their lives depended on it.

The dancers indulged in lighthearted humor in “Waiting Room,” in which four dancers find ingenious (and hilarious) ways to sit on a bench made for three. The evening’s standout performance came from Roel Seeber, whose solo rendition of “Surface Tension” explored every conceivable emotion along with every cubic inch of space from the stage floor to the ceiling.

Banldaloop’s performance repeats tonight. Dance fans whose tastes run the gamut from ballet to Cirque du Soleil will no doubt find the performance to their liking. Click here for tickets.

PHOTO: “Travelers” by Craig Joujon Roche

“Two Point” by Matt Haber

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.