Dance Ensemble BANDALOOP Defies Gravity Overlooking The BeltLine’s Eastside Trail

The dance troupe BANDALOOP danced on the side of Oakland City Hall in 2014.

Jessica Swanson

The vertical dance ensemble BANDALOOP takes dancing to new heights, with feats of climbing and simulated flight in a dance performed on unconventional surfaces. The world premiere of their new dance piece, “FIELD,” takes place this weekend on the vertical façade of the 725 Ponce building, overlooking the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine. The event is presented by Flux Projects, an organization creating temporary public artwork around the city. Flux Projects’ executive director Anne Dennington and Bandaloop’s artistic director Melecio Estrella joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about the daring vertical dance performance and what it takes to pull it off.

BANDALOOP was founded in 1991 by dancer Amelia Rudolph, who grew up and trained in Chicago. “In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, she started to get into rock climbing very seriously; she was a competitive rock climber,” said Estrella. “She realized when she was climbing in the mountains of California near Yosemite, that the rock climbing could inform her dancing, and her dancing could actually inform her rock climbing.”

“The question, the inquiry of what happens when you mix the two art forms, is a question that we’re still answering 30 years later,” Estrella continued. “It evolved from the mountains to then move into urban spaces and the built-in environment. So we dance all around the world on buildings, bridges; still, we dance on cliffs, trees – pretty much any vertical surface that can work with our rock climbing gear, we’re ready to explore.”

Safety, of course, is crucial for these dancers, and their harnesses require elasticity and flexibility to allow a dancer’s full range of movement while securely tethered. “We’ve learned over the years how to really use what really is, essentially, a rock climbing harness, and how we can work with it and dance in a way that frees it up, where we can almost forget about the harness,” said Estrella. “We do work with a harness designer, who designs a specially-manufactured dancing harness for BANDALOOP.” Attesting to the talent of these dancers, the soundness of their direction, and the quality of their special equipment, Estrella said the troupe has never had a serious incident in their 30 years of work.

The choice of venue, 725 Ponce’s façade, was selected by Flux when the head of the new building’s developer, Jim Erwin, sought out Flux Executive Director Dennington’s ideas for public-facing art they could bring into the project. She had recently met Estrella and BANDALOOP’s Executive Director Thomas Cavanagh, and working with them instantly made her wish list. According to Dennington, the developers felt the same, and the three teams went to work preparing for this bold feat of dance that would enliven 725 Ponce’s walls.

The piece BANDALOOP created, “FIELD,” sheds light on the world’s textile industry. Estrella shared the inspiration for “FIELD” in the story of his Filipino grandmother, who learned to crochet while held in a World War II concentration camp during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. “She would crochet these elaborate bedspreads, and because she couldn’t get more thread, she would unravel them and start again, and this was for the months leading to her eventual execution… As a fiber artist myself, someone who loves to knit, that really hit me,” said Estrella. “The act of making fabric has been, for generations, a soothing act, a healing act… There’s something very sacred about fabric to me.”

He continued, “Juxtaposing that to the environmental devastation that’s happening right now from the textile industry, from the globalized fashion industry, and for fast fashion; it’s a vivid mixture.” Estrella consulted with a sustainability expert, Catherine Bottrill, who works with the fashion industry in an analysis of environmental impacts. The insights into fashion’s damage to the natural world inspired “FIELD’s” message and gestures, part of a multi-event project called “LOOM” where BANDALOOP’s dancers create woven fiber artwork over the buildings where they perform, keeping the message visible after the dance is over.

“FIELD” by BANDALOOP is free and open to the public and will be performed Oct. 1 – 3 at 725 Ponce De Leon Ave. More information is available at