Identity in the air

Defying gravity is second nature to Amelia Rudolph.

The artistic director of Project Bandaloop sends her dancers to ever-greater heights, leaping and turning at 90-degree angles along the sides of bridges, skyscrapers and even mountains.

Founded in 1991, Project Bandaloop was first and last seen at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in 2007. The company will return Sept. 30 and perform three nights on the outside wall of Segerstrom Hall — including a world-premiere work commissioned by the center for its 2010-11 Dance Series season opener.

"IdEgo" will be accompanied with an original composition and live performance by Dana Leong, who also will be perched on the side of Segerstrom Hall. Along with "IdEgo," the company will revisit a previous piece, now known as "The Ninth Second."

Each performance site poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities for dancer and choreographer alike, Rudolph said.

"The wall at Segerstrom Hall is sort of ideal for us," she said. "There's rarely a building that is like a vertical proscenium stage, and it is flawless in that it doesn't have windows or lampposts that jut out, and the building is smooth and beautiful, and has an architectural grid on it, and is the right height. The height allows us to maximize what we do well within the view of the audience. It's a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful place."

Offering free performances like those in Costa Mesa is one of the key elements of Project Bandaloop's mission statement, Rudolph said.

"We are trying to make dance accessible to wide and diverse audiences," she said. "And over the years we have had the luxury and opportunity to be able to perform publicly at no cost to the audience. We do it more than many companies are able to, and so we consider ourselves ambassadors of the arts."

This is due to the sponsorship of various organizations like the James Irvine Foundation and the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Rudolph said. The company has taken its mind-bending performances around the world, including a week in India earlier this year.

For "IdEgo," the company rehearsed on a building in downtown Oakland.

"The idea of the piece was inspired not necessarily by the architecture or by Orange County per se, but through their support we are able to realize it," Rudolph said. "In a nutshell, the piece is about the tension between individual identity — and the needs and desires of the individual — in conflict with their social self, and common good. It's not a piece about Freud in any way. It's more general. It's about individual and social identity."

The piece includes text and song that are both performed live and projected on the wall. The projections are intended to exaggerate human details, Rudolph said, because although the performers must of necessity be far away from the audience, their work explores the more intimate aspects of humanity.

Along with introducing audiences to dance and expanding their perception of physics, Project Bandaloop seeks to increase environmental awareness. The 2007 performances drew a diverse crowd, and Rudolph hopes the same will be true this year.

"What I hope is that the quality of the work draws in more traditional dance audiences, and the innovative and unique qualities of how we present the dance — and its ability to be presented in nontraditional spaces and with a nontraditional expression of gravity — attracts people to dance who would not normally go to a contemporary dance production onstage," she said.

Specifically, Rudolph suggested that children and outdoor enthusiasts would be intrigued by the concept — as well as those who have no familiarity with or interest in traditional dance.

Project Bandaloop dancers must undergo rigorous training in order to physically support themselves in situ.

"Everyone in the company is a trained modern dancer; it's very important to me that they are elegant and fluid movers," Rudolph said. "But it's hard training for what we do. It requires a lot of core body strength, since you're basically standing sideways on a wall, so they train in a wide variety of things, from dance, Pilates, yoga, rock climbing, surging, running, hiking … they cross-train more than your average dancer, because it takes more full-body strength."

Rudolph recalled that at a recent audition for male dancers, she was surprised at how much some of the auditioners, despite their strength, struggled at even the most fundamental aspects of Project Bandaloop's style of dance.

"To be able to do the work, you have to simply do the work," Rudolph said; in other words, the regular act of rehearsing may be the best way to build up the necessary strength and endurance needed to take on the company's strenuous choreography.

Rudolph's background is a one-of-a-kind amalgam of dancing, gymnastics, climbing and community activism — as well as two degrees in comparative religion — that lends itself to interests in aesthetics, interpersonal relationships, physics and ecology.

"I'm interested in performance as ritual; how does it impact everyday life?" she said. Specifically, if one is moved by a performance they witness, how does that carry into their everyday life?

"I'm interested in performance as bigger-than-life as well," Rudolph said. "I think it can be, at its best, an expression of life force and beauty and fear — and it's not all beautiful things, but it can be an expression of our inner fears and dreams that perhaps tap into a side of us that is not the quotidian, not the everyday, but is timeless enough."

"IdEgo," Rudolph said, has "moments that tap into a mystery and a curiosity that I would associate with this realm."

Climbing El Capitan in Yosemite to make a dance was one of Rudolph's most difficult projects, both physically and logistically, she said. But she also characterized "IdEgo" as one of her most challenging choreography projects.

"We are working so hard on it," she said. "We're introducing choreographic ideas, but also techniques that we haven't done before — and it's fantastic, but it takes time. I like to craft choreography, and it takes time to do that as well."

Later this year, Project Bandaloop will perform a small piece on the side of the Mint Plaza in downtown San Francisco; in November, they will perform on a 14th-century fort and a skyscraper in India.

Next year is Project Bandaloop's 20th anniversary, and Rudolph said she hopes the company will be able to perform vertical dance on some iconic structures for it.

"I'm open to invitations for that," she said.

If You Go

Who: Project Bandaloop

When: 8:30 p.m. Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 2

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center community plaza, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Free; standing-room only

Information: (714) 556-2121; ocpac.org; projectbandaloop.org

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