There was a moment almost 30 years ago, while Amelia Rudolph was hanging off the side of a cliff in California, when a thought crossed her mind: “What would it be like to dance here, in this kind of dark and challenging environment?”
That thought led to the formation of a vertical dance company, Bandaloop, which she founded in 1991 in Oakland, California. The group is one of the pioneers of the art form, which sees highly skilled dancers performing choreographed routines while suspended off the ground using rock climbing equipment.
Founder and artistic director Rudolph, who is 55, has been a dancer since she was a child but it wasn’t until she started rock climbing in the Sierras in her twenties that she began to think about the possibility of combining her two loves.
“I thought, ‘What would it look like to combine the strenuousness of mountaineering and climbing with the grace and interpretive qualities of dance?’ They seem so different yet so the same to me,” she said.
Starting Sep 20, Singaporeans will get to see this unique dance form for themselves as Bandaloop comes to town to perform at ION Orchard as part of the mall’s 10th anniversary celebrations.
For the show, four dancers will perform two different programmes – each dance lasting approximately 20 minutes – all while suspended from the fifth floor of ION’s glass facade.
According to Yeo Mui Hong, chief executive of Orchard Turn Developments, “We wanted a show-stopper along Orchard Road for our 10th anniversary and Bandaloop was the ideal troupe to team up with and put together spectacular, one-of-a-kind performances on ION Orchard’s iconic media facade.”
DON’T CALL THEM ACROBATS
While what they do is certainly gravity-defying and breathtaking, Rudolph wants to make clear that they are first and foremost a dance company.
“We’re not a circus company and we’re not acrobats. We are all deeply rooted in the dance world and the lineage of dance,” she said.
When she first started the group 28 years ago, most of the members were climbers who were interested in dance. Now, all of Bandaloop’s members are highly-trained dancers because, as Rudoph explained, it’s easier to teach people how to use the equipment than it is to teach people to dance.
Throughout the years, the group has performed at more than a hundred different sites around the world, including skyscrapers and even in the Himalayas. They’ll perform almost anywhere, Rudolph said, unless they deem a building or area to be structurally unsafe.
“We also worry about heat, like how hot is the surface?” she said. “Wind is often a factor, as is temperature in the air and rain, which could make a glass surface slippery.”
However, don’t worry if it starts raining on the days they’re slated to perform in Singapore as their general rule is “if the audience can take it, we can take it.”
While Rudolph is Bandaloop's chief choreographer, she firmly believes in collaborating with her dancers. “I create environments where we improvise together and we build work together, so they are contributors,” she said.
The process of coming up with moves for vertical dancing is not that different from choreographing traditional dance moves, except there’s an additional step to experiment and ensure they work on a vertical surface.
Because what they do is so unique, some of the moves they come up with don’t have names, for example, a pirouette. To get around this, they came up with their own unique names for the moves, like The Matrix, which is “like a cross between a flip and a pirouette,” said Rudolph.
For their upcoming performance at ION Orchard, the dancers will be suspended from the fifth floor and dancing on the side of the building between the third and fourth levels.
There will be two different choreographed shows, which will focus on the “connection and the blending with the curve and smoothness of the building,” according to Rudolph.
She admits that the sheer spectacle of their performance often elicits strong reactions from the crowd. However, she’s also hoping that Singapore audiences will be touched and moved by it.
“I also hope that they will never see that (building) face the same way – that something that was very normal to them has now been transformed,” Rudolph said.
Bandaloop will perform at ION Orchard at 7pm, 7.45pm and 8.30pm on the following dates: Sep 20 to 22, Sep 27 to 29 and Oct 4 to 6.