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Troupe reaches new heights

You've probably seen the photographs taken just days ago -- the slender acrobats of Project Bandaloop dangling from ropes that hang alongside Tremont Street buildings. A surrealist element comes from the background -- a sidewalk many feet below these dancers who have arched their bodies into midair arabesques.

But the unexpected bonus at the troupe's Shubert Theatre performance Saturday afternoon was seeing these aerial gymnastics in so intimate a venue. ''Tango Waltz" featured Rachel Lincoln and Mark Stuver descending over the audience from a rope anchored in the ceiling. As they stretched and contorted to tango lines played by Bandaloop composer Zachary Carrettin on his violin, a hush fell over the theater. These two didn't just defy gravity, they didn't even acknowledge its existence.

Project Bandaloop, which began in 1991, is not performing trapeze art, where a body in motion is constantly in motion. Instead, the troupe presents its dances at a mostly adagio pace, which requires intense muscular control. Though they frequently perform in theaters, they're just as likely to be found out of doors, climbing/dancing off buildings, bridges, cliffs, or even the 2,400-foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite.

Indoors, one can see how the harnesses are anchored around each dancer's waist so that just a hand, or even toes, on the rope will steady each performer. One amazing work, ''Inverted Duets," featured the company paired off into three groups. Each pair hung back to back, and to the electronic beat of Gotan Project, they danced in midair. Several times, each pair planted the soles of their feet together and then arched their backs so that, momentarily, their bodies were parallel to the stage. Stretching farther, the pair ended up face to face again.

The aerial gymnastics are awe-inspiring, and frankly beautiful, but the company also showed enormous creativity and complexity in its final piece, ''Bach Wall," which used segments from Bach's St. Matthew Passion. The dancers wore white and used the upstage climbing wall, creating patterns perfectly calibrated to the austere rhythms. Frequently, one performer would move a hand just as another was about to step into that dancer's space. Any hesitation or misstep would have thrown off the complexity of the pattern.

After the Saturday matinee, rain and wind prevented Project Bandaloop from performing more aerial gymnastics outdoors, as was originally planned. Instead, the company took questions from the audience, explaining that there is no other company in the world exploring this art form, which fuses movement with mountaineering techniques. And company founder/director Amelia Rudolph admitted that she couldn't choose between the two. ''I dance when I'm climbing," she explained.

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