All of Portland saw Bandaloop. People packed Monument Square, and from there the city watched dancers swing, suspended from the roof of One City Center. Hung by ropes, they bounded across glass and brick in flowy costumes, pink and green streaks linking arms, tossing one another and jumping in unison. They danced like birds, cutting through the air in great swoops, the music leading each movement, the blue of the sky serving as their backdrop, the late afternoon sun their spotlight.
It was a free gift, the sort of thing someone could wander into — out for a Friday night in the Old Port, and suddenly you’re watching the most graceful dance in the most unlikely of places.
I, however, didn’t see it. I can describe the evening, tell you about the dance, the movement, the choreography, even the sunset and how cold it was, but I didn’t see a step or a swing of the performance.
I was on the roof.
Bandaloop from the ground is human brushstrokes across an urban canvas, but achieving such elegance is no simple feat. The dancers hide harnesses beneath their costumes, and each rope serves as a lifeline. Their performance is not without risk, and the risk factor is part of what makes it spectacular.
I was on the roof. I was there as a safeguard against the risk. I was there as a rigger.
A rigger is the person who builds the anchors and hangs the ropes. A rigger is the last person to check the dancers’ safety gear before they step over the edge, the person who makes sure they are anchored adequately and secure. And should something go wrong, a rigger is the person who intervenes.
I saw the dancers the moment before you did. I checked their harnesses, their ropes, every carabiner. I watched them approach the edge as the music began, moved their rope if it needed adjustment once they were over the edge. I made eye contact just before they leaned back.
“Are you ready?” I asked Jessica, who wore a blue dress that came alive in every puff of wind.
“Yes,” she said. She smiled, and then she was gone.
You didn’t see me. I ducked low every time I drew close to the building edge. But clad in leather gloves, harness, a jacket and a radio, I was there. The dancers were my responsibility, in my hands. As they spun and you clapped, I waited, their safety net above. Their performance was brilliant, colorful, arresting, but I didn’t see it. I’d watched all week, checked and rechecked each of them before every journey down the ropes, learned their rituals so when the time came for performance movement they could forget about rope systems, exposure, the ground below, and just dance. I’d taken their jackets at the last moment to ward off the chill of a late September evening. I wasn’t on the ground looking up. I didn’t see their dance. But I was there.
When the performance ended a call came over the radio.
“Riggers, can you shoot a photo of the crowd?”
I walked to the edge and for the first time peeked over. The dancers were down. They were safe. The ground was dark with people, specks the size of ants that filled in the square. All of Portland was there to watch Bandaloop dancers fly against the sky.
I didn’t see it. But I was there too.