Los Angeles

Materials and Applications: Improvisational Dance Meets Experimental Architecture


One after another, passersby become bystanders. Up in the hourglass-shaped installation that almost completely fills out the tiny front lot of Materials & Applications (M&A) on the main thoroughfare of Silver Lake Boulevard, three dancers -- Erin Schneider, Elizabeth Sonenberg, and Jos McKain -- slither and hoist themselves around the steel pipes that make up the structure, while two percussionists -- Matt Cook and Justin deHart of the Grammy-nominated Los Angeles Percussion Quartet -- bang and rattle both the structure and a variety of instruments. A boy screeches his scooter to a halt, causing his large fluffy dog and then his mom to pile up into him. Mouths gape. And this is just the dress rehearsal.

Expect the oglers to multiply on Saturday, May 24th, when Schneider and company will officially perform "C D A G N C E," an improvisational performative experience, on the experimental architectural installation. The installation, which resembles the skeleton of an hourglass, itself is called "La Cage Aux Folles," and was conceived by renowned residential architect Warren Techentin through the 10-year-old experimental design non-profit M&A's ongoing project series.

M&A was founded by Jenna Didier in the early-2000s as a place for architects to test out new concepts and materials in a unique, well-traveled space. "We conceived of [La Cage Aux Folles] growing back into the land," says Techentin. That's exactly what it does, becoming a sort of weird jungle gym that has unrestricted capabilities -- as people stroll by a sign welcomes them to interact with the structure.

"La Cage Aux Folles" | Photo: Nick Cope

"I'm all for reappropriation in unexpected ways," says Techentin about the performance series curated by M&A's Program Director Kevin Crooks. "I'm proud that people are inspired by it and want to engage it so physically."

For his part, Crooks knew that Schneider would be a perfect fit to work with the Cage after attending her site-specific performance in Mueller Tunnel in the San Gabriel Mountains, where she took a group on a guided tour to set up the history of the area. She then performed in the tunnel, using the rocks and walls of the mountain path to create an eerie dance recreating the history she'd just built up. "Immediately I was struck by the ability to play with the audience-performer relationship," says Crooks about seeing dancers in the various chambers of the Cage. "I wanted to explore how performers could move around audience and vice versa."

Schneider was equally inspired to explore the possibilities of the unique structure. "What's amazing about being here is that it's unlike any other space that I've been in," says Schneider. "A lot of my work is based on bodies and space and how architecture and the built environment affect the way we experience a place physically and mentally. You have to rethink how you're going to move, and then once you can do that, flip yourself upside down and play with it, because it's a really playful form."

Structural analysis of "La Cage Aux Folles" | Photo: Anders Carlson

Construction of "La Cage Aux Folles" | Photo: Glen Kinoshita

 Construction the preliminary core of "La Cage Aux Folles" | Photo: Nick Cope

The previous week, in the first iteration of the three part performance series, artist Xárene Eskandar broadcast NASA field recordings (i.e. a storm on Mars), and set up telescopes and binoculars so viewers could have an audio-visual observation of space. On May 31st, M&A will present the third part of the series, called "Birdcage Express," which will feature projections onto the structure from artists and designers Mishal Hashmi, Jaine Sanchez, and Filipa Valente.

As the dancers twist through the Cage, the bamboo that walls the space rustles, comingling with the sounds hammered out by the percussionists. One player begins to drag a bow across an instrument called a waterphone, the instrument used in many horror film soundtracks. The sun is setting, turning the twisting bodies into pulsing shadows -- and the structure comes alive. It's no surprise that the whole thing just might entrance unsuspecting Silver Lakers walking their dogs.

"La Cage Aux Folles" | Photo: Nick Cope

"La Cage Aux Folles"

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Top Image: "La Cage Aux Folles" | Photo: Nick Cope

About the Author

Maxwell Williams is a freelance writer based in Cypress Park, Los Angeles.
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