“Airborne. Amplified. Upsized.” reads the headline on promotions for the 42nd annual Utah Arts Festival, which takes place June 21-24 at Library Square (400 S. 200 East) in downtown Salt Lake City.
Well, the latter is easily discerned, given that this year’s festival boasts its largest Artist Marketplace to date, with 175 visual artist booths featuring ceramics, jewelry, metalwork, painting, photography, sculpture, wearables and woodworking.
The middle component, meanwhile, references the festival’s new Arts Fest Amplified concert series — one headlining show each night on the Amphitheater Concert Stage inside the festival, including Ron Pope and Gomez, A-Trak, People Under the Stairs, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
What, though, is the “airborne” all about? That would be BANDALOOP, a “vertical dance” company from Oakland, Calif., which will perform eight — count ’em, eight — choreographed routines across and down the sheer glass façade of the Salt Lake City Main Library with the help of rock-climbing rigging and rappelling harnesses.
Oh, and lest we forget, the festival also includes literary arts performances, visual arts workshops, a fine arts exhibition, roughly 60 screenings of short films, Art & Technology and Urban Arts programs, and a children’s Art Yard. Among other things.
UTAH ARTS FESTIVAL
When • June 21-24, noon to 11 p.m.
Where • Library Square, 200 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • Available at https://www.uaf.org/tix and the box office. Adults, $15; Thursday/Friday lunchtime special, $8 (noon-3 p.m. only); seniors (65+)/military, $8 (at box office only); children 12 and younger, free; four-day Festival Pass, $50; Arts Fest Amplified, $25 (includes same-day festival admission).
BANDALOOP performances • Twice daily at 5:30 and 7 p.m.
“We’re a 42-year-old institution here in the cultural vibe of Salt Lake City and Utah. We’ve got a full complement of program areas that … are all strong enough to stand alone as stalwart programs of a festival, and I think that brings an element of quality to our community,” said Lisa Sewell, executive director of UAF. “It’s something where people can find their area and find out what it is that makes them tick.”
Speaking of things that tick, if watching BANDALOOP make its dynamic descent down the five-story, curved glass wall gets your heart racing, well, you wouldn’t be alone.
It certainly does the trick for Melecio Estrella, and he’s BANDALOOP’s associate artistic director and a performer in the group for the past 15 years.
“All the dancers have different relationships with fear; I definitely have fear, especially the first couple times down the building,” Estrella said. “And that fear, I really value. It keeps me vigilant, it wakes me up, and it really points my focus towards safety.”
Members of the group are first taken on as apprentices before eventually becoming new company members, but even then, Estrella said, it usually takes about three years of work — building up “an unusual amount of core strength,” learning to balance “horizontal body orientation” with freedom of movement in the head, spine and limbs, and developing the ability to recognize obstacles and challenges (such as windowsills, turrets, signage) and turn them into “creative opportunities” — before they are dropped into actual performances.
BANDALOOP, which was formed in 1992 by artistic director Amelia Rudolph, now dances all over the world, from San Francisco to Shanghai to Sydney. Nevertheless, Estrella said the company has a strong affinity for Salt Lake City.
“The really unique thing about the library in Salt Lake City is that we’ve been there. I think this will be our fifth time on that wall. So we really know that wall and we love that wall. It’s a gorgeous dance wall,” the 38-year-old Northern California native said. “It’s perfect in its size, because it’s big enough to have a lot of float time, what we call loft, but it’s also small enough to be intimate and close to the audience, so we can really connect, and the audience can more easily see more subtle movements. We love that kind of intimacy.”
He added that “the curve also affords us really fun physics, and the glass surface, we can slide on, and visually, the reflections off the glass surface are really fun.”
BANDALOOP will be premiering three new routines among its eight performances at the festival (nightly at 5:30 and 7), and Estrella encouraged some people to check them out from inside the library as well, “to see the work from the feet side of the dancers rather than the head side.”
Sewell was an early advocate for the group after reading about it and seeing pictures in a magazine in the late 1990s. While she advocated for the festival’s then-director to bring BANDALOOP in, she recalls not everyone being enamored of the idea.
“At that time, the library was concerned — it was still that ‘precious building syndrome’ and it was, ‘What’s it gonna be like with them dancing on the glass wall?’ and ‘Are we gonna have to wash the wall?’ and ‘Are they gonna break the glass?’” she said. “… And now it’s like, ’Are you guys gonna come back? OK, great.’”
Sewell said that since the group last performed at the festival in 2013, she’s had people approach her annually since, asking, “‘When are you gonna bring back the dancers on the wall at the library?’
“Sometimes you feel like that building is so huge, but when they come in and they’re dancing on it, it does create this really interesting staging experience. Instead of being in the audience and seeing the performers in the same plane that you’re on, you’re on a totally different plane, and it creates a more enveloped experience. It’s like you’re all included in their performance, like you’re part of their stage because they’ve broken through that dimension,” she added. “… Every time there’s an opportunity, financially, for us, as well as timing-wise for those guys, I love to present them.”
ABOUT ARTS FEST AMPLIFIED
While previous years’ headlining musical performances at the Amphitheater Concert Stage were included in the price of a festival ticket, this year’s performances will cost you an extra $10. Arts Fest Amplified Tickets cost $25, which also includes same-day festival admission. There’s a good reason behind the change this year, said Utah Arts Festival executive director Lisa Sewell.
“We clearly needed to shake things up in terms of what we were booking at the festival and what we could present. We were getting some feedback from some patrons … that we were tending to skew a little older in terms of who we were booking as far as headliners. So we needed to look at expanding our audience base, and to grow and stay relevant in the community. And in order to do that, we needed to book some artists … that would cater to a different type of an audience base for us and a different demographic. That’s the bottom line. We’re still an incredibly affordable venue. I think it’s very valuable and an affordable price.”