I have created and directed immersive performances in both lowly (the local laundromat) and lofty (our downtown City Hall) places for almost thirty years. These theatrical works are deeply embedded in a place, where the location and setting are essential to the performance. I structure a framework and choreograph with my performers, not steps per se, but the muscularity of my argument within a particular environment. I find the cadence, the spacing, the momentum, the emotional tone, but most important, I construct dance works with a view to an audience. I do not editorialize or tell my audience what to think or feel, but I take them in and care about them. In other words, my work is about me and you, and the world we inhabit together.
In the 19th century, with the invention of electricity, our theaters changed from open air sites of public assembly to divided spaces where performers moved in the light, leaving the audience in the dark. This new configuration subdued an audience, restricted their behavior and appealed to an elite class. Site-specific dance and theater has the potential to break down these barriers. One of my approaches has been to take an audience on a journey, sequentially encountering performers throughout a location. This movement, of both dancer and viewer, makes for ambiguous boundaries between the "stage" and the "house." It can subvert scale and distance as performers may appear on a roof high above our heads or just inches away, curled up at our feet. The journey generates intimacy between artists and onlookers. These audience members, who begin as strangers, find a bonding like a group bus tour in a faraway land.
These journeys, which I have created in both interior and exterior locations, are not easily reproduced since each location is fundamental to the work. I started to think about the irony of site-specific work as a whole, for although the work is rooted in a sense of place, it is often unrepeatable, transitory, and ultimately always homeless. I love that my work speaks to the idea of "home," but it can be geographically challenging. I reflected on making a new work about home that is also a work about leaving, arriving, and getting lost. How could I bring the work to the audience instead of the audience to the work? What would it take to launch a journey that traveled from place to place, making connections within a city, and engaging audiences in new ways?
The sprawling, seismic, mobile climate of Los Angeles seemed like a perfect place to start. I found a 1961 Oasis trailer, a sweet canned ham, and rehearsals have started in a parking lot. As we explore our new vehicle, the dancers and I mine the movement potential of confined space. Oh, the joys of cabin fever! The choreography is taking on a strong narrative tone with characters and relationships beginning to develop. We removed the front window so the audience can see in, be privy to the intimate physical language that unfolds in the interior of the cabin. The connection between the outside and inside world, between private and public space has become a thematic anchor.
Although this work is in its early phases, I am discovering how a fixed place can move. This vintage trailer, once a symbol for leisure and the traveler's exploration of nature's wide open spaces will take us on a new artistic trajectory within our city. This site on wheels is a family on the move. It is a closed space, a vulnerable space, a protected space, a shared space, a small compact universe that can respond and adapt to its surroundings.
View Heidi Duckler Performances in a larger map
The map of places we will visit is beginning to fill in -- Culver City, West Hollywood, South Los Angeles, Boyle Heights. As I plan our road trip, I think about the sites I want to see, some iconic, some unexpected. What about a jaunt to a library, a dip in a stream, a stop for doughnuts? With each stop I plan to fold the landscape into the experience. I enjoy building a world using what is there, already there.
Henry Moore once said "out of doors is always changing. There is no background better than the sky because you are contrasting solid form with its opposite, space." I am beginning to long for the open road, to experience the poetry of the landscape with you, and then, through this new mobile performance site, we can settle for a moment, pry open the screen door and bring the outside in.
When we are ready to take our baby out for a test drive, I hope you will be there to greet us. Wave and nod when we ask you "are we there yet?"
- April 20th: Opening Event in Culver City
- April 27th: First Public Performance at the West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd; West Hollywood, CA 90069
- May 3rd: Krispy Kreme, 4034 Crenshaw Blvd; Los Angeles, CA 90008
- May 4th: Downtown Culver City, Parcel B, 9300 Culver Blvd; Culver City, CA 90232
- May 11th: East Los Angeles Civic Center
All performances will take place at 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. each night.
Top Image: Heidi Duckler's "At the Oasis." | Photo: Kaitlyn Pietras.
About the Author
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