Thinking inside the box

  • by Joe Landini
  • Tuesday April 15, 2008
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This week, Bay Area dance aficionados will have a rare opportunity to see the work of two contemporary choreographers who are each unique in their vision and execution. Locally, Project Bandaloop performs in a proscenium setting instead of their usual outdoor environment, and from New York, Doug Varone makes his second pilgrimage to the Bay Area.

Having a chance to see Amelia Rudolf's choreography from the comfort of your upholstered chair in an air-conditioned theater is an unusual experience. Normally, Rudolf and her company Project Bandaloop are out climbing mountains and buildings, and audiences schlep to keep up. Bandaloop specializes in a unique form of aerial dance that is site-specific. Basically, Rudolf finds something that she wants to climb, and the dance emerges from a series of exercises that involve rigging, invention and a lot of planning. "Project Bandaloop is an unusual dance company because many of our performances are a combination of art and adventure," says Rudolf. "Climbing Yosemite to make a piece, dancing in a meadow in the Italian Dolomites or rappelling from the 23rd floor of a building puts our experience outside that of traditional companies."

This year, Rudolf decided to change things up a bit, to create an indoor piece at the Cowell Theater in Fort Mason. "Working in the theater is a fabulous way to bring the group's talents to audiences. While we are in a traditional setting, the work bends viewers' perspective and the rules of the game in general, so the experience of viewing concert dance takes on a very different feeling."

The new work, Interiors, features hanging furniture and a large picture frame that the dancers grapple, climb and manipulate. Says Rudolf, "The piece seeks to turn everyday life on its head while finding beauty in daily gesture."

Varone's work is the epitome of East Coast athletic dance; dancers fly, tumble and slide to music that is sometimes propulsive, sometimes minimal. His dancers are beautifully trained but never precious, they eat up space like nobody's business, and they look like they would be equally comfortable at a game of touch football. These things make Varone's choreography accessible in all the best ways. You can be a non-dance kind of person and still have a great night watching a performance that you can talk about over margaritas at Chevy's.

Varone will be presenting three pieces of repertory, a duet titled Home and two group works called Lux and Boats Leaving. About Lux (2006), he says, "I had just created some very dark work and directed three operas in which everyone dies. I was looking to create something optimistic to get my mind in a new direction. The work is filled with very intricate material, vocabulary and patterns. It has a soaring score by Philip Glass, and the music fuels the energy of the dance."

Home (1988) was created out of the need to explore relationships. "The dialogue between people has always been a cornerstone of my work. I tried to use very little and create a scene that details the space between two people. I was fascinated by how this simple task could dramatically shift in the course of a dance."

Though Varone's work is not overtly queer or politically driven, he acknowledges that his sexual identity helps shape his creative impetus. "As a gay man, every choice that I make as an artist is informed by who I am and how I view the world. But I have found, as all smart people know, that human nature is not specific to gay or straight. We can all be generous, caring and supportive, as well as extremely fucked up. I try to constantly explore that in my work in equal ways."

Project Bandaloop at Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, SF, April 17-20. Tickets ($15-$28): (415) 345-7575,

Doug Varone and Dancers at Yerba Center for the Arts, 701 Howard St., SF, April 19-20. Tickets ($27-$39): (415) 392-2545,