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Game, Set, Site: Reflecting on 'At the Oasis'

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"How did you choose each of these sites?" was by far the most frequently asked question of the "At the Oasis" L.A. tour. Interestingly enough, this question is nearly the same as what we hear with our non-mobile projects. More typically stated as "How'd you find this place?" or "Why'd you decide to perform here of ALL the places in L.A.?," the choice of a particular site is a constant conversation starter at Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre. The similarities between all of these inquires lead me to believe that after our pilot tour of the "Duck Truck," we have found part of the answer to our initial question -- is site-specific work geographically defined, or can it focus on the people who inhabit or visit it?

While this is not a yes/no or an either/or question of site-specific work to-go, the answer might be simpler than initially thought. The "At the Oasis" tour inherently combined the geographic and social elements that our question asks. Similar to site-specific performance's tendency to require participation from more than one type of individual (artists, audience, building owners, and so on), the genre also relies on the conceptual complexity of place. Place is geographical, cultural, social, historical, architectural, environmental, political, interpersonal, and even intrapersonal. The "place" where Occupy L.A. occurred at L.A. City Hall beginning in October 2011 is not the same "place" that Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre artists animated during the company's 25th anniversary performance of "Governing Bodies" in 2010.

The ever-changing context of place makes choosing sites a bit like playing tennis, an ongoing physical morphing of strategies, expectations, and logistical "aces." Heidi and I would "serve" an idea based on artistic aesthetic, funding requirements, organizational capacity, logistics, and a bit of wit over the net. Then our tennis partner (let's say East Los Angeles) would hit the ball back to our side with some new piece of information. This quick and sometimes very exciting return (like when L.A. County Arts Commission created a Public + Art Engagement Program that has allowed us to stay in residence at the East L.A. Civic Center through August) would spark movement and welcomed complexity. Snap decisions (like participating in Metro's Destinations Discount Program due to the proximity to the Gold Line) and more long-range planning (like how to incorporate Rude Calderon's "Leaping Fish" sculpture into the choreography) shaped our places and showed how site-specific work is geographically defined and focuses on the people who inhabit and/or visit it.

So when people asked me at each performance, "How did you choose each of these sites?" -- I would respond with, "Well, we made a lot of small decisions that led us to today." Our fancy footwork, backhands, lobs, volleys, and serves led us to our oases -- West Hollywood Park/Library, Krispy Kreme in South LA, Culver City's Parcel B, and the East Los Angeles Civic Center.

"At the Oasis" in West Hollywood. | Photo: Heidi Duckler.

West Hollywood Library/Park, an area that is crawling with families and dog walkers by day, becomes a passageway at night for good-looking people on their way to the Abbey. The Kenny Scharf mural holds its rich color -- partially due to the parking structure's safety lights (and shockingly low rates, thank you Weho!) -- but the energy and pace of the place settles to silence after 7 p.m. Here, our oasis was the eye of the Saturday night West Hollywood storm.

"At the Oasis" at Krispy Kreme in South Los Angeles. | Photo: Michelle Iki.

Krispy Kreme -- Donuts & Coffee since 1937. Dancing since 2013. While the majority of the audience might have been (absolutely was) on a sugar high, their energy matched the hustle and bustle of the Crenshaw Boulevard/Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard intersection. Here, our oasis was caught in a downpour of hungry individuals, drive-through lines, and glazed donuts.

"At the Oasis" at Parcel B in Culver City. | Photo: Heidi Duckler.

Downtown Culver City's Parcel B, a flat parking lot dreaming of being put to use in the heart of Culver City, welcomed the Duckler canned ham. Situated between the historic Culver Hotel and less-than-historic-but-sometimes-equally-as-fulfilling Trader Joe's, the large surface area of the lot provided just enough distance from and proximity to the activity of downtown Culver City. Here, our oasis experienced the perfect amount of nightlife wind and an unexpected drizzle of audience members who felt the drift and decided to stay.

"At the Oasis" at the Civic Center in East L.A. | Photo: Scott Groller.

East Los Angeles Civic Center: Although several county government buildings, a library, courthouse, sheriff station, and health center surround it, the Civic Center surprised us with its casual, family-oriented atmosphere. Parents and children arrived over an hour early to picnic and enjoy the sunset. A balanced setting of urban and rural elements, the Civic Center's audience reflected the local population, visual artwork, and calm nature of the setting. Here, our oasis situated itself right next to an actual oasis -- Belvedere Park Lake.

So, how did we choose each of the sites? Well, we played site-specific tennis in West Hollywood, South LA, Culver City, and East L.A. -- four oases with four very different terrains.

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About the Author

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Emily Wanserski graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a dual degree in Dance and Political Science. Two suitcases in tow, Emily moved to Los Angeles in the Fall of 2011 to work...
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