Before Cal Day on Saturday (April 18), when he will dance a few hundred feet up in the air on the Campanile’s walls, BANDALOOP aerial dancer and 2007 Berkeley alumnus Andrew Ward, 30, spent time on solid ground talking with the NewsCenter about growing up dancing in Berkeley, naps under the historic campus bell tower and conquering his fear of heights. (Full information about Cal Day can be found at calday.berkeley.edu.)
NewsCenter: When did you first discover your passion for dancing and performance?
Andrew Ward: I’ve always loved movement and sports. My mom is a performing artist, an actor and singer, so my sisters and I definitely were creatively raised. When we were kids, we would make a lot of plays together, and little movies. I grew up in North Berkeley and did gymnastics for about 10 years through Golden Bear Gymnastics. With BANDALOOP, I get to use that gymnastic training, with all the flipping and knowing where you are in space.
At Berkeley High School, I joined the crew team, but in my junior year, I also joined the wonderful modern dance program there run by Linda Carr, who exposed us to many Bay Area dance artists of different genres and let us create our own work. Both of my sisters also danced at Berkeley High. When my older sister, Rosalie, began attending Cal, I’d go see the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies productions she was in. I was in awe. I wanted to be a part of it and to dance at Cal.
How did Berkeley prepare you for your career in dance and theater?
Once I was at Cal, I really started learning dance technique and training. I first learned the (Martha) Graham technique with Chris Dolder, and then the department brought in teachers from Bay Area dance communities like Kathleen Hermesdorf, Scott Wells and (UC Berkeley lecturer) Felipe Barrueto-Cabello. My sophomore year, I auditioned and got into a dance/theater production called “The Disaster Series,” directed by a dance professor at Berkeley, Joe Goode. During the rest of my college years, I was able to intern with his professional company. After I graduated, I joined the Joe Goode Performance Group as a full company member. I still perform with this company, and with BANDALOOP and Fog Beast, a dance theater company I started in the East Bay with my BANDALOOP colleague Melecio Estrella.
Dance and performance studies actually was my minor at Cal. I was a peace and conflict studies major, since I wanted a broad education. My major was interdisciplinary, so I got good academic breadth with it. I definitely learned about people-to-people communications on a small scale and in large groups of people, and about other cultures. I studied India a lot at Cal, and with BANDALOOP, I got to go to India. I had a lot of interests then, and I still do. When I’m done being a professional dancer, I’d like to go to graduate school for landscape architecture.
How did you become part of BANDALOOP?
I’d always been aware of the company and that they dance off buildings on ropes, but I didn’t think it was for me. Then I went to one of their open rehearsals in Oakland and saw them dancing on a wall, and it looked beautiful and was inspiring. And I thought I’d like to be part of it. I joined the group in 2009.
Amelia (Rudolph, BANDALOOP artistic director) looks first for dancers with a unique way of expressing themselves on the ground, then she sees if they can translate that on a rope. She also sees if they can adapt to new environments, new places, and how quickly they can adapt. We travel all over the world, and get to dance on amazing places, from skyscrapers to mountains. Most people who are interested in BANDALOOP have that interest in traveling already. Another part of choosing dancers is making sure they get along with the rest of the group and can be good team members. Within our core group of seven dancers, we definitely have to trust each other a lot, and in stressful situations.
As an aerial dancer, are you — or were you ever — afraid of heights?
I was afraid of heights, and still am. I have found that my fear revolves around thoughts of stepping or slipping over the edge, and that happens when I let my mind wander. But once I am clipped into the rope and can actually step over the edge, the fear greatly diminishes for me. Once I’m dancing, I’m not afraid because I’m no longer thinking about it.
I remember the first time I went over a wall with the other dancers. In Oakland, we rappel off The Great Wall, a cultural event space, to practice. I was scared at the top and didn’t want to let go of the rope at first, and then I remember as I went down the wall and got lower and a little more comfortable and I started to jump out away from the wall that I had a feeling that was very freeing and like nothing I’d experienced before. I’ve also gotten to know and really trust the rigging process and the professional riggers and the whole culture of safety that we create around the rope. I can trust everything we’re on.
Tell us about a few of your favorite BANDALOOP performances.
My first BANDALOOP performance was on a 14th-century stone fort in Hyderabad, India. It was part of a cultural exchange with the U.S. and India, and we collaborated with local dancers in Hyderabad. It was amazing, and it was my first time in India. We also did dancing on the ground with some local dancers, which was really fun. We always like to come directly down and meet the crowd below after our performances and give people the opportunity to meet us and talk. In India, a lot of people just wanted to touch us and put their hands on our shoulders.
I also really enjoyed a three-city tour of Mexico City and the Yucatan Peninsula a couple years ago.
We danced on two very old cathedrals, and that was very special. It’s interesting dancing on holy sites. We never want to disrespect anything, only to honor the place and to bring attention to it so that people, after seeing BANDALOOP dance on the site, will never look at it in the same way. I also like that we’re able to perform for members of the public who might not otherwise get to see a dance performance in a theater.
What are some of your best memories of UC Berkeley?
I loved hiking in the Claremont hills above the Clark Kerr Campus. There’s a great view of the Bay Area, while being surrounded by wildlife. I loved being a part of the tight-knit dance community at Berkeley.
I loved taking naps on the grass during the day below the Campanile. It has a built-in alarm clock. I was in an architecture class once, and I did a project comparing the Campanile to the Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings because it watches over all activity on campus.
I never thought I’d be performing on the Campanile and to be able to dance as part of the university again, and on Cal Day. This is where my career started. It’s an amazing opportunity, and it will be great to return. I am honored to be a part of it.