WASHINGTON – When the wind and rain picked up Wednesday evening, the dancers dangling from the side of the Old Post Office building in downtown D.C. didn’t seem to flinch.
“Wave if you guys are OK up there,” called Project Bandaloop founder and artistic director Amelia Rudolph from down below.
The four performers, holding on to ropes and harnesses, gave the thumbs up.
Then they were off, swinging, twirling and flying through the air as cellist Dana Leong serenaded them from one of the adjoining towers.
It’s all part of the Kennedy Center’s “Look Both Ways: Street Arts Across America” extravaganza, which kicked off Sunday at Eastern Market. The week-long festival offers free performances throughout the city that combine everything from vaudeville to burlesque, from yo-yos to dance.
But Wednesday evening, San Francisco-based Project Bandaloop held court over several dozen people who braved the worsening weather for a glimpse at the performers.
The dance company will be debuting their aerial ballet, “Bound(less)” Friday night at the building on 12th and Pennsylvania streets. They have been practicing suspended high above the ground since Monday.
“It’s been in creation for almost three years,” Rudolph said. “Bringing it here to the capital is very special, and super hard.”
Watch a video of the rehearsal below:
Aside from the elements, the dancers must learn to adapt the choreography to the building’s dimensions. Nothing is set in stone when rehearsals first start. Everyone has to be flexible as they get accustomed to their new surroundings.
“It’s a wonderful challenge to make it work,” Rudolph said.
The troupe is used to this kind of changing dynamic. They have performed suspended 360 feet above the ground on the sides of buildings in Atlanta and Houston, and have even conquered a 2,400-foot cliff in Yosemite. They have also battled winds as high as 18 mph.
This kind of commitment and ingenuity is what excites Garth Ross, the Kennedy Center’s vice president of community engagement, about this year’s inaugural street arts festival.
Project Bandaloop is “completely transforming the building, certainly, but also our notions of what modern dance is and where you would see modern dance and what a modern dance audience is,” he said.
“That is a big part of what this festival is about- to take a common space in the city and our common experience of walking down the street … and turning it into something that is entirely uncommon, inspiring and memorable.”
If you work downtown, chances are you have seen the marching bands, jugglers, clowns and circus invading the otherwise ordinary streets. That is just a taste of what awaits the city in days ahead.
“Look Both Ways” is the first time the Kennedy Center has presented works outside of its manicured walls. Under newly minted chairman David Rubenstein, the center is focusing on making art “more accessible to more people in more place at more times in more ways than ever before,” Ross said.
“This was a great opportunity for us because there isn’t a lot of this work going on in D.C.,” he continued.
And it has paid off. At performances this week, Ross has noticed a hunger for this kind of entertainment.
“People are so appreciative,” he said.
Many of the performers interact with the crowd, bringing in audience members as art of their acts. This tends to resonate especially well with the international community in the District.
“That is really part of the character of [the city] – how international it is,” Ross said. “To be able to weave that into the street performances is really exciting, particularly because in other parts of the world street performances are really more common and a bigger part of the culture.”
“Look Both Ways” continues with “Look Out! Lunchtime Invasions” Thursday and Friday in Farragut Square. Project Bandaloop performs “Bound(less)” Friday at 9 p.m. at the Old Post Office building.
The festival culminates Saturday with an all-day festival at Navy Yards. All events are free and open to the public. For a complete list, click here.