- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

With musical acts like Lyle Lovett and Mary Chapin Carpenter paying Wolf Trap regular visits, it is easy to forget the Vienna, Va., concert venue also bears the title, "America's National Park for the Performing Arts."

Come Sept. 8, Wolf Trap will offer a reminder with the new "Face of America" program. The series honors the country's historic parks, starting with Yosemite National Park in California.

The shows will combine both the history and geography of the parks in question with live arts productions.

Aerial dancers, Project Bandaloop, will launch the series with their creative spin on the wonders of Yosemite. The sextet will dangle from the Filene Center's rafters, pirouetting to images of themselves scaling actual Yosemite mountains.

Amelia Rudolph, the group's founder and artistic director, called the selection of Project Bandaloop for the show an "honor."

"It's an incredible opportunity to marry the two dance and the environment," Ms. Rudolph says of the show, born from a partnership between Wolf Trap and the National Park Service.

"I hold in my own heart the history of the people," she says of the Indians who settled land once considered sacred.

Her group typically performs on cliff faces, buildings, theaters even on Seattle's Space Needle. For Wolf Trap, she and her dancers will dance in harmony to their high definition television (HDTV) selves scaling Yosemite Falls and Yosemite's Lost Arrow Spire. The park claims it will be the first time HDTV will be used in such a manner.

"It is celebrating the power and the vulnerability of the place," Ms. Rudolph says of the performance.

One of her three slated pieces reflects the grace of the peregrine falcon, a bird native to Yosemite.

Ms. Rudolph, a competitive gymnast, rock climber and runner, studied dance as a teen-ager with Chicago's Hubbard Street Dance Company. Later, she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative religion at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania while continuing dance lessons.

A trip to the Sierra Mountains in 1989, though, proved to be a different kind of education. One that permanently altered her artistic sensibilities.

"I fell in love with the feeling of climbing on the mountain," she says. "That turning point was influential to me as an artist."

While her early dance training included traditional fare like ballet, she points to her modern dance background for giving her the freedom to pursue her brand of aerial calisthenics.

Two years after her transforming trip, she formed Project Bandaloop, the name taken from a passage in Tom Robbins' novel "Jitterbug Perfume." The lineup she will bring to Wolf Trap has been together for about eight years.

It's that time-tested bond which imbues the dancers with such calm while spinning in the air.

In addition to mastering complex dance movements, the dancers must learn how to rotate their bodies to land on their feet.

"The rock, like the floor, becomes your dance partner," she says.

While safety is utmost in mind while planning each performance, the group's highly experienced riggers make any fear of falling fade away during show time. The performers' fluid, sweeping motions reflect that confidence.

Terrence D. Jones, Wolf Trap president and CEO, says Project Bandaloop's climbing theatrics capture the essence of the park.

"I was absolutely astounded by what I saw," Mr. Jones says of their spinning, floating and soaring maneuvers. "They are the picture of contemporary Yosemite."

The idea for the unconventional series began shortly after Mr. Jones arrived at Wolf Trap four years ago. At the time, talk swirled around ways to celebrate the approaching millennium. But a retrospective concert series seemed a bad fit, he says. The celebratory show should look forward, not backward.

The origin of the program's debut took a fateful turn when Mr. Jones struck up a conversation with Rep. George P. Radanovich, a California Republican whose district includes Yosemite National Park, during a symphony performance.

The congressman arranged for Mr. Jones to visit the park, which helped cement the deal.

Mr. Jones says Wolf Trap will make sure all "Face of America" shows mirror the history of the park in question.

"When we were out there, I was looking for a Native American tie-in [for the Yosemite show]," he says. The show's producers eventually tapped flutist Robert Mirabal, who composed original music for the performance.

Rounding out the evening will be the American Indian Dance Theatre, a group representing several tribes indigenous to the United States and Canada.

Once the project was established and the artists selected, Wolf Trap officials let the program take on its own life.

"As a producer of art, we don't insert ourselves artistically into the project," he says.

Mr. Jones wouldn't reveal the performance's production price tag, in part because the projection screen purchases haven't been made. But he said the show would be the most expensive production staged this year by the Vienna park.

Given the show's scope and complexity, only one performance will be held, says Mr. Jones.

While the Yosemite show proceeded thanks to a few serendipitous meetings, future productions may not fall into place as smoothly. Mr. Jones says the key will be matching a park's personality with an artistic interpretation. And they won't have much time to do so. While they used two years to launch the first production, Wolf Trap officials will only have one year to complete next year's program package.

Wolf Trap officials are considering parks in Hawaii, Louisiana and Florida, among other locales, as the subject for next year's production.

With 300-plus national parks in the country, a fact Mr. Jones says many people don't realize, Wolf Trap has plenty of parks from which to choose.

The series will "go on as long as we can sustain it," he promises.

WHAT: "Face of America"

WHEN: Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Wolf Trap Filene Center, 1624 Trap Road, Vienna

ADMISSION: $8 to $28, call 703/218-6500

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