Bandaloop awes audiences

MIDDLEBURY — When Mark Stuver entered Middlebury College as a student in 1993, he wasn’t expecting to become a professional dancer. He wanted to study geography.
But Penny Campbell, Senior Lecturer of Dance at the college and Stuver’s first mentor, insisted he continue his journey in dance.
“She took my arm, she looked me in the eye, and she said, ‘you need this,’” Stuver told a small audience at his career talk last Friday at the Mahaney Center for the Arts.
Stuver’s pursuit of dance led him to join Bandaloop, a San Francisco-based dance group that practices vertical dancing in all sorts of natural and artificial settings – museums, theaters, skyscrapers, historical sites, cliffs and in film and television.
Over the past weekend, the group held a series of performances at the Mahaney Center, hanging off the roof and dancing on the building wall facing the center plaza. The dances combined acrobatics and ballet to produce breathtakingly beautiful movements, in part due to the sheer courage needed to perform against gravity. When dancers jumped, they created slow-motion moves only possible in mid-air with just a rope keeping them in place.
A crucial aspect of Bandaloop’s work is the dancers’ response to the performance site. It takes the dance members about a week to organize their choreography based on the new environment, and the riggers need a day to set up.
“So every time you see them, it’s different,” Stuver said. “It’s a conversation and relationship with the place.”
The performance for Stuver had a special significance, as it was the last time he will perform with Bandaloop. At his talk, Stuver found it hard to describe his gratitude for his experiences he’s had by being part of the group for 17 years.
What words sometimes fail to convey can perhaps be brought to people through actions, and Stuver’s special solo performance at the college seemed symbolic of his two decades as a vertical dancer.
For Stuver, ending his last Bandaloop performance where he first started to dance was almost unreal.
“It’s amazing. When I first got here … when I came in and everyone was sitting on the floor, I had to turn around and walk out,” he said. “I thought I was walking right into the past.”
This was also not the first time for Bandaloop to perform at Middlebury. In 2004, the group performed on the Davis Family Library for then-President Ron Liebowitz’s inauguration. This time, they returned to kick off the 25th anniversary of the Mahaney Center.
Bandaloop is two years older than the arts center, and at the time of its own 25th anniversary, Stuver saw the group moving from being a pioneer dance company to bringing a unique kind of meaning to the communities in which they perform.
Almost always, Stuver said, performing on skyscrapers and 1,000-meter high mountains requires viewers to change their perspectives.
“In today’s world, when we are looking down a lot — whether it’s a phone or a computer or just a steering wheel on a tired day — Bandaloop lets you look up,” he said.
He also said there will always be an unknown side to other people and other cultures, and it is those unfamiliar aspects one should embrace.
“There could be … not necessarily common ground, because common ground can be pulled out from under you really quickly, as we are seeing in the world right now,” he said. “But I think what we all connect over is common inspiration.”
For Stuver, the inspiration he has received from college professors to childhood friends to Moby Dick to Freud’s quote on the nature of art, have now led him to go beyond dancing. He has written for various media and has decided to continue his career as a screenwriter, he said, while staying open to other opportunities.

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