Dance at dizzying heights

COSTA MESA — In a region dominated by surfers, skateboarders and spandex-clad bikers, six professional dancers offered an alternative Wednesday as they danced off the south wall of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in rehearsing for the upcoming Project Bandaloop dance shows.

But don't try this stuff at home or, for that matter, on any high-rise building in Orange County. It's strictly for professionals who love to rappel and push the art of dance to new levels in what has become an extreme theatrical sport of some sort.

Sage Hill School dance teacher Rachael Lincoln was among the six, flipping in mid-air and falling into sync with the rest of the aerial dance team as director Amelia Rudolph, the founder of the dance company, pushed the dancers to their limits for a little over an hour.

Lincoln has performed for Project Bandaloop for more than a decade. Now, in her relatively new job at Sage Hill, she's incorporating what she's learned into the classroom, although on ground level, of course.

Not only that, Lincoln has met quite a few other professional dancers on the circuit and has succeeded in bringing some of them back to her dance class, where a few have taught in her absence while she's on the road.

The upshot is that the networking is starting to payoff, making the high school's dance class one of the most eclectic around, she said.

"I've brought in hip hop, ballet and Bollywood dancers," said Lincoln, 35, who's been dancing at dizzying heights for 12 years, having joined the group in San Francisco, where it's based.

Sage Hill has allowed her the flexibility in her schedule, although she still teaches dance at the high school 80% of the time.

"The school has been great. Their philosophy is to actually bring in working artists to the classroom," said Lincoln, whose sinewy arms and fit figure are testimony to the hard work that's difficult to perform even at sea-level.

Lincoln said she plans to invite her students to one of the performances, lending a new meaning to seeing the teacher outside the classroom.

But none of these artistic maneuvers would have ever been possible had it not been for Rudolph, 46, a Chicago native.

She came up with the unconventional yet successful idea of combining dance with climbing when she was out mountain climbing in the Sierra Nevada in 1989, she said

'I've danced my whole life and then one day out in the Sierra I started imaging myself dancing where I was actually rock climbing," she said. "And I started to wonder what it would be like to combine the two."

Rudolph directs the dance through a megaphone from a chair about 50 feet away from the wall, and she's just as much a director to her aerial dance show as movie directors are to their films.

Rudolph said she can't take credit for the fusion of dance with climbing. She said European "performance art climbers" were doing a variation of it before her time, although she did push the envelope to new levels by coming up with "site specific" ideas.

Translation: Hey, why don't we show the folks of Orange County our stuff on the side of that wall!

And yet although the art might seem like professional dancers merely having fun on a different level and at a different height, the dance is much more technical than it lets on.

A great deal of reflection also goes into the musical score, with a combination of classical music mixed in with hip-hop and other contemporary music.

Project Bandaloop will perform at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights on the 90-foot high wall of the Performing Arts Center at 600 Town Center Drive.

And here's the kicker, said Heather Cho, a spokeswoman publicist for the performing art center.

"It's free," she said. "You can't beat that, can you?"

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