Watch BANDALOOP Dancers Soar and Swoop on Marin Cliffs

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They scale skyscrapers, leap 30 feet in a single bound and routinely seem to defy gravity. Neither superheroes nor stunt doubles, they are performers from BANDALOOP, a pioneering dance troupe that combines modern choreography with rock-climbing technology to create mesmerizing performances on the sides of buildings, bridges, cliffs and other vertical stages.

Since their first show on a climbing wall in 1989, this Oakland, California-based troupe has danced on Seattle’s Space Needle, Mumbai’s skyscrapers, the cliffs of Yosemite, a cathedral in Mexico and dozens of other unusual public stages around the world—sometimes for audiences numbering in the tens of thousands.

But on this serene, sunny day, they perform only for the seabirds and KQED’s cameras, on the cliffs of Red Rock Beach, near Stinson Beach, California. Dangling from the top of a gargantuan boulder lodged at the ocean’s edge, they soar, swoop and tumble through the sky. It’s the first time artistic director Amelia Rudolph and dancer Roel Seeber have performed a dance called “Swing Duet” on this rugged stretch of Marin County coast.

This is not choreography for the faint of heart. Tethered by harnesses and ropes, belayed by riggers from above, the dancers engage in constant risk management, watching for jagged surfaces, crumbling sandstone beneath their feet and the ever-present threat of rope snarls. It takes great strength to “fly” this gracefully, making it look easy even when your muscles are screaming.

Cinematographer Owen Bissell puts the audience in the midst of the action by joining the dancers on “stage.” Photo by Vanessa Avery.
Cinematographer Owen Bissell puts the audience in the midst of the action by joining the dancers on “stage.” (Vanessa Avery.)

As the visionary behind BANDALOOP, Rudolph is always quick to emphasize that these performances aren't just about acrobatics. “We want to energize urban and natural spaces so that people see these places in new ways,” she says. “We want to spark the imagination of people who would never otherwise experience modern dance—and challenge preconceived notions about what dance can be.”

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Although most of the performances take place in urban locations, Rudolph first hatched the idea for BANDALOOP while climbing in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, and she continually looks for opportunities to dance in the wilderness. “Dancing high on a mountain or above an ocean evokes a sense of freedom and grandeur… and helps us tap into this sense of being part of something much greater than ourselves.”

The troupe’s name is derived from Tom Robbins’ 1984 novel Jitterbug Perfume, in which a Himalayan tribe of shamanic creatures called the Bandaloop perform a longevity-inducing dance. For dancer Roel Seeber, bandalooping (a verb used by the troupe) does feel a bit like something out of a storybook. “I feel like a magical creature,” says Seeber. “I feel like a superhero. And I love bringing that kind magic to life and sharing it with people.”

To find where Bandaloop performs next, visit their website, bandaloop.org, or follow them on Twitter at @bandalooping.