USF's Museum Blog

Embodying cultural diplomacy

by Barbara Jaspersen, Museum Studies Internship Coordinator

Editor’s note:  This review of the renowned BANDALOOP dance company, written by long-time USF Museum Studies Internship Coordinator Barbara Jaspersen, captures the spirit of risk-taking and beauty all of us in the museum field aspire to.  To read the post in its original format, click here.

BANDALOOP will be performing at 333 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco (just down the road from University of San Francisco) JUNE 16-19, 8:00 PM
*Bring blankets, beach chairs or mats for best viewing

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Throughout the thrilling phenomenon of a BANDALOOP performance, there is a question that persists, and, for a dance enthusiast a gnawing puzzle that engages both the primal body memory and the mathematical intellect: what must that FEEL like, and how how how do the dancers locate and implement the physical technique that propels the choreography?

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I pondered and then questioned one of the dancers. She smiled as it took me a while to put into words what I was trying to figure out: if you are moving sideways, upside down, on an angle in midair, feet pushing off walls with varying momentum while tethered to a semi-elastic climbing harness, what happens to everything your body knows as a result of all the “regular” dance it has done? “Where is your center!” I sputtered. “How do you avoid skidding along the floor gathering scrapes and burns along the way?” She answered with various explanations, we danced around the impenetrable physics of it, and finally she said, “your center is outside yourself.”

Aha. BANDALOOP is deep. And probably would be a good mentor in helping tame my ego.

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During the short film “Shift,” in which BANDALOOP performs in the great outdoors of Yosemite, I hardly took a breath. The uncompromising beauty of the setting and the tender trusting smiles of the dancers as they lunged with no familiar anchor toward each other to embrace while 3000 feet of granite fell away below them made me (and at least one other audience member) weep. “So that’s what it’s all about…that’s basically…life.”

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Executive Director Thomas Cavanaugh is interested in cultural diplomacy–in taking the work of BANDALOOP to audiences in other nations and cultures. On the surface that seems interesting and worthy and expensive. Below the surface it seems profoundly necessary, for perhaps the most pronounced aspect of the work is the artists’ engagement with fear and un-hidden mortality to accomplish something of heart stopping grandeur. Isn’t that what we as a species try to do all the time? Not in every daily moment of brushing our teeth and paying the bills (though maybe so!), but in our most cherished visions, dreams, and purposes, individual and collective.

I remember attending an acting class in Havana Cuba while on a cultural exchange program, and watching a trust exercise common in acting training. One of the students was too afraid to fall backwards and trust that her fellow classmates would catch her. I knew she must master this to move forward in her development as a performer, and I felt a wave of compassion for her. I couldn’t help myself and said something reassuring and motivating, that I’d be there too to catch her.

As Artistic Director Amelia Rudolph pointed out in slightly different words, artists know you have to dance with fear to make your art. Paradoxically, leaning into that fear can often unlock a trove of joy that acts as a kind of magic carpet carrying you away from fear…maybe to transcendence? When you find that joy through a leap of faith in your art, human spirit becomes visible.

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Most astonishing to me, the metaphor-couched truth saturating the work of BANDALOOP is conveyed through the human body. Most mysterious of all, as we watch a BANDALOOP performance, we FEEL the work stirring in our own bodies. That is why we weep and gasp and soar and why a four-year old wants to join the troupe! And we realize with a start that to be a human organism is to be part of every other human organism on the planet– senses sympathetic, strangely singular, strangely connected.

If more people were aware of that, the world might be a very different place.

 

For more information on University of San Francisco’s museum studies program, click here.

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