For many people Bandaloop was the litmus test to see how Rochester would react to our city's newest festival. The internationally renowned aerial dance troupe is arguably the highest-profile act -- literally and figuratively -- of the inaugural Rochester Fringe. Would people show up to see its free outdoor performance on the side of One HSBC Plaza? Would Rochester embrace Fringe?
The answer to the first question, at least, is a resounding yes. Thousands of people packed Manhattan Square Park Thursday night to watch Bandaloop perform excerpts from the piece "Bound(less)" on the side of the 21-story building. Using ropes and god knows what else, six performers jumped, flipped, ran, and rappelled down the sleek white facade in four different numbers. Although the wind got gusty at various points during the 20-minute presentation, things went off more or less without a hitch, and the crowd audibly gasped at several of the more astonishing feats.
Prior to Bandaloop's 8 p.m. start time, Manhattan Square Park -- a venue I heard several people mention they'd like to see used more frequently -- slowly filled with the crowd, drawn by jugglers, an aerial acrobatics act, and buskers. The park became a mini-festival in itself, with a few food tents (should the event come back, organizers might want to fortify the food offerings a bit). But as the sun went down and the crescent moon came out, people started arriving in droves, setting up row after row of collapsible chairs, getting cameras and cell phones ready.
At just about 8 p.m. on the dot Fringe Festival Producer Erica Fee and Mayor Tom Richards welcomed Bandaloop, which performed to booming jazz-influenced music and in just the right amount of light. The first piece featured three dancers connected by flowing white fabric that flapped evocatively in the wind, but it was the least crisp segment of the evening. The second movement, featuring just two dancers in bright red suits play fighting on the side of the building, was easily my favorite. The two of them started off in near-perfect synch (although I wondered if something happened with the music cue at the start of this piece), and then proceeded to throw each other, run across the side of the building, and wrestle as they slowly descended the face of the building. It was very cool stuff.
The third and fourth pieces featured six of the troupe's dancers, half in red, half in white, as they moved in and out of a series of different formations, some of which spanned whole floors of the building. Someone in the crowd next to me pointed out that depending on your perspective of the action, it almost seemed like the dancers were the ones on the ground, which gave their jumps -- when the dancers pushed off the building they were easily swinging out 10' to 15' -- an especially interesting context.
While the performance was brief, and it was sometimes hard to make out exactly what was happening given the height differential and distance from the crowd, Bandaloop was a spectacle in every sense of the word. Walking away from the site and to the next show I overheard multiple people commenting on how awe-inspiring the act was, and how amazing it was that we had it right here in downtown Rochester. In an interview with City a few weeks back, Fringe Festival Producer Fee said that she hoped that the "penny" would drop when the community gathered to watch Bandaloop. Given the size of the crowd and the response overheard, I think she got way more than her 2 cents. (NOTE: Bandaloop will also perform Saturday, September 22, 4:30-4:50 p.m. on the side of One HSBC Plaza. Suggested viewing area is Manhattan Square Park. Admission is free.)
After Bandaloop I headed over to Sproull Atrium -- better known to most as Max of Eastman Place -- to check out Shimmy Shake Down, a performance featuring several area belly-dance troupes. The show started a few minutes late, and had a modest crowd -- I had to wonder if people simply headed home after Bandaloop. Regardless, what I saw of the show featured dancers of varying skill levels, ages, and body types. I was only able to stay for a half hour before heading out to my next show, but the stand-out troupes included Fire and Spice and Bombshell Belly Dance Co. The majority of the performers in those two groups were clearly having fun on the stage, and their energy was infectious. I hated leaving when I did, as the hips and chests were just getting warmed up (and some of the dancers broke out those little finger cymbals!), but I had a date with a siren from the suburbs.
Mrs. Kasha Davis had the late show (10 p.m. -- on a school night! Do they even have a 10 p.m. in Fairport?) at the TheatreROCS Stage at Xerox Auditorium. I saw an earlier version of "There's Always Time for a Cocktail" more than a year ago when Davis debuted it on the Geva Theatre Nextstage. Since then the piece -- a one-man/woman show that tells the story of how little Eddie Popil from Scranton, Pennsylvania, grew up to become one of Rochester's leading drag performers, and an accomplished actor/singer even without the wigs and heels -- has gone through several revisions, and it is unquestionably tighter and brighter. That said, it is still quite sad in parts. Some of that is unavoidable, since it's an autobiography about a man grappling with his sexuality in a conservative town, and dealing with an unsupportive (to put it mildly) family. But Kasha has such a spirit, such a natural sparkle, that it's still surprising when her show gets dark.
The material here -- the stories, the anecdotes -- is good. And Kasha's delivery of just about every line is outstanding, as is her occasional banter with the audience. (That is one of Kasha's great strengths, and it might be wise to further exploit that in this show.) But the script still needs more polishing. There are laughs, to be sure, but many of them come from Kasha selling the shit out of the lines with her natural star quality. The words need to rise up to her level of execution.
There's already been substantial improvement through the revising process, and it was a solid show to begin with. Really focusing on the wording, mining each line for maximum wit, will pay off with big dividends in the comedic sections, and serve to make the dramatic parts of the story even more poignant.
It's fascinating to watch a production like this change and grow, and to an extent that's part of what Fringe is all about -- artists trying new things, expressing themselves in new ways, getting feedback. Any evening spent with Kasha Davis is a good evening, and this particular show has already taken great strides forward (in stylish designer footwear, no doubt). For example, the addition of the transformation and the new section on Popil's mother are very smart, and wonderfully written. "Cocktail" is on the right track, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here. (NOTE: "There's Always Time for a Cocktail" will also be performed Saturday, September 22, at 9 p.m. and Sunday, September 23, at 5 p.m. at Xerox Auditorium. Tickets cost $15.)
Friday I'll be checking out "We Were There" on the Geva Nextstage, butching it up with "Football" at RAPA, and then doing a 180 with "The Gay Fiancee" at Writers & Books. I'll probably try to squeeze something else in, too. What are you all planning to see?