Dancers find rhythm in unusual places

Pirouettes are usually performed on a stage, but that was not the case this past Thursday as Santa Monica College students participated in Heidi Duckler's site-specific dance workshop, the second in a series of free "Masters of Dance" classes sponsored by the SMC Associates.

Nothing was off limits as Duckler, founder and artistic director of the Collage Dance Theatre, positioned groups of students throughout the south-end of the quad even as a nearby crowd protested statewide class cuts. Benches, water fountains, pillars, and railings all were to become part of the performance.

Duckler describes site-specific dance as work that is made using the context of different environments as inspiration. "It's not work that's made in a studio and taken some place else. The process is all very important and connects to the place," said Duckler, "and place can be many things. It could be location but it could also be a social environment. It could have political context, it could be about identity."

At first, participating students looked a bit tentative as they gauged their surroundings, discussing amongst each other the sequence of movements each would take, but a growing confidence would appear with each dance step. Soon students were twirling and tip-toeing with elongated limbs, all to the bewilderment of those making their way to and from classes.

Isabel Casillas happened to be sitting on a bench when two of the students began moving around her like dancing bookends. "Awkward," was the quick response Casillas gave when asked how she felt about it.

According to Duckler, awkwardness and agitation is normal with this type of art. "Often time, the work becomes about boundaries between people and cultures, and those are fascinating things to study and be aware of."

But not all were turned off by the public showcase. In fact, many in the vicinity had huge smiles on their faces as dancers invaded their space and by the end of each performance those within a peripheral view often applauded.

Riaunna Durham and Ayana Robinson found the performances unique and creative, at one point even following along with dancers who found their way over to them. "We became a part of the performance," said Durham. "It was pretty cool."

"The community participating in the work is something that is interesting to me," said Duckler whose interest in public sites and engaging the public started as she was getting her Masters in choreography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Since then Duckler has choreographed performances around the world from New York to Hong Kong, with sites ranging from laundromats to government buildings.

"It really lit up something inside of me," said Aubrey Yruretagoyena, a dance major at SMC participating in the workshop. "Being able to be exposed to this was so inspiring."

Duckler's next performance called "Governing Bodies" will be held at Los Angeles City Hall on Nov. 6 and 13.


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