When Dance Finds an Unconventional Stage | By Marie Tollon

Taking the dance out of the theater and into the public sphere is certainly not a new preoccupation within the dance world. In the Bay Area and beyond, artists have been challenging traditional ways dance is both presented and staged since the 1960s, by providing a variety of viewing platforms for their work, outside of conventional performance venues. What does the dance gain and/or lose from being transposed onto an unconventional stage? How is movement affected by the context of a specific site? Inversely, how is the experience of space informed and transformed by the choreography? What kind of dialogue is established between the work, its voluntary audience and its incidental one?

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre "Laundromatinee" Photo by Vivian Babuts

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre
Photo by Vivian Babuts

When setting their work outside of the traditional dance theater space, artists are forced to consider the site, which inevitably informs both the ambience and structure of the work by way of sound, form and movement. Choreographer Heidi Duckler surely knows something about that. Hailed as the “reigning queen of site-specific performance,” she has been working exclusively in nontraditional sites for nearly 30 years. Based in Los Angeles and founded in 1985, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre inserts dancing bodies within places charged with a specific role and history, such as hospitals (Catch Your Breath, 2012; The Groundskeepers, 2013), vacant lots (Expulsion), trailers (At the Oasis, 2013), laundromats (Launderland, 1998) and bus terminals (Kiss n’ ride, 2012).

Her Bowling Blues, which will be part of the WDDF-SF next weekend, is a site-adaptive work that takes place at Mission Bowling Club, a bowling alley located across the street from ODC Theater. In an interview, Duckler explained her work process and how space influences the choreographic material: “The movement comes from the location and the site. There is no studio movement. The work also is very collaborative. I create the content, and the dancers work on the movement–they partner with each other, they utilize the site, and they teach each other.”

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre "Bowling Blues" Photo by Lou Parisot Gignac

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre
“Bowling Blues”
Photo by Lou Parisot Gignac

Placing dance outside of traditional venues is also a way for Duckler to build community and bring the art form to audiences who are not necessarily familiar with dance. “I view location, history, and community as my creative partners. I consistently draw upon the conceptual complexity and identity of each location to drive the creation and implementation of my company’s professional performances and learning opportunities. Therefore, we inadvertently, yet strategically build communities with each project,” Duckler explained to Dance Mogul Magazine.

If Bowling Blues exposes how choreography and space impact each other, it also delineates how sound and movement converse. Featuring live music by Claire Gignac, the dance echoes other works which explore the relationship between music and dance within the context of the festival.

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