Terrence Luke Johnson dives into homeLA/Highland Park, Saturday, November 16, 2013

Jeremy Hahn's rooftop performance. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Jeremy Hahn’s rooftop performance. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Rebecca Bruno has been curating a site-specific dance series called homeLA that takes place in homes in Los Angeles. The third one took place at a house in Highland Park. It ran from sunrise to sunset, with the first performance taking place at 5:30 a.m. and the last taking place at 4:30 p.m., and many participatory events like parlor games, crafts, haircuts and tarot readings during the day. The following is not a review of the sunrise performance but a description of what I saw and sometimes of what I felt.

It feels strange driving into a sleeping residential neighborhood. I see a couple of people walking and think they must be going to the same place I am. I find a parking spot. As I walk up to the address there are a handful of people waiting for the performance to begin. I know a couple of people, but I start talking to a couple I don’t know. Like most of the conversations around us, ours is about why we came here, who we know and how great it is to get up so early and get together with some people and watch art.

Then Rebecca says the performance is beginning and we look around and see a young woman in a white shift and work boots standing in the street. I walk across the street so I can see better:

she comes dancing down the street
all upper body with the arms angling about
and the feet and knees moving this activity
down the hill


Lynn Bathke's book project Ghost of my Friends. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Lynn Bathke’s book project Ghost of my Friends.
Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

I hear a car and become aware that there is a car parked in the street and its headlights are lighting the dancer.

She climbs the steps to a gate,
carefully opens it and closes it
(wait, leave it open for me),
and walks up the stairs.
The car backs away and disappears.

We climb the stairs behind her, picking up a card from a bowl as we go (“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.” -Oscar Wilde). When we come to a terrace, Rebecca stops us and we spread out. Our dancer in white is hanging upside down from a trapeze. She descends and disappears behind a small structure. As our heads all turn, we see:

inside an unfurnished room
in khaki hooded jacket
a man undulating
rising/falling
walking in circles
hand to mouth

He goes to the floor. His hands are hidden from me by the table. He’s playing with something. His movements look very familiar:

hands clasped behind his head
quiet music
albums against the wall
60s drug dancing

It’s a small room separate from the main house up the hill. It is evidently under construction:

slanted room
can see the insulation
tongue out / yoga pose
or something
teenage
floor fucking

Nick Duran. Photo: Carol Cheh.

Nick Duran performing in the guest house at sunset.
Photo: Carol Cheh.

Now I see he’s looking at albums / vinyl albums:

oh, it’s a motion I never see anymore
the quiet concentration of someone
putting a needle in a groove

Rebecca claps. We know it’s the end. We clap too. She looks up. We look up. There are two people on the roof with fire in their hands:

waving torches – click, click
bowls of fire / torches
they swallow the torches’ flame
they light the torches again
morning dances or very late night dances
Bali jungle
one large two-ended torch
twirling
as the bowls disappear
no, there they are, just flashes
between the branches of the tree
the whirl of flame against the air
set to early morning music
from the unfinished room
bigger circles / smaller circles
6 torches, 3 in each hand, like evening arati
the flames again shining through the tree
and now they are a four-armed Indian god
so fast, the flames are more sound than light

We clap again.

Now the dancer in the small room is unhooded and looking out the door downhill.

We walk up to the house. It is a small, post-WWII house that has been tinkered with over the years. We walk inside to the bedroom passing three people lying in front of a crackling fire in a fireplace. In the bedroom we face sliding glass doors opening onto a patio. We see:

a woman is taping the cement patio floor
a yellow ball in her mouth
not a yellow ball, a lemon
she bites it open and squeezes juice onto the concrete
and leaves the lemon halves lying there
a cap for a wig, a bright yellow wig
she continues taping

From the sound system in the bedroom:

“shine white like a diamond”
outside, a pottery fireplace in an iron frame
she’s tracing out a space with tape
“diamonds in the sky”
sun glasses
a small white pendulum
she watches / she stops

Phoebe Osborne. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Phoebe Osborne at sunrise. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

I can now see the hills behind her (when did the sun come up?):

she sits on a small piece of furniture, something like a table
in a loose lotus pose
her hands in a loose meditation mudra
now, the aluminum window frame cuts her in half
as she meditates to bland, new age-y music
a wide toothy smile
appears behind the aluminum strip
then goes

Two small dogs watch as intently as I do. She opens a protein bar and talks about Costco and getting 500 for $5 dollars, or something like that. She comes to the door and talks to us. “This is a project . . . psychedelic drugs” (I’m listening, but not listening). She asks an audience member to tell a story about a memorable experience with psychedelic drugs. I raise my hand, but she chooses someone closer. She hands him a megaphone and puts on lipstick (“It makes me feel better”). As he tells his story, she dances.

She stands on the table
mostly hands
but standing
hanging on to the aluminum frame

Now jazzy music with a beat is playing:

she dances between
rock dancing and precise hand movements
swinging the arms – more drug dancing
she adjusts the wig
she gasps
she dances bigger
black squeaky pants
with a black top
and a beige jacket with striping

Phoebe Osborne at sunset. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Phoebe Osborne’s performance at sunset. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

What is this music? It’s really famous. Why can’t I remember anything anymore?

she sees something behind something
he tells his story
she dances
she counts the rungs of the ladder and makes sure its all there.
We know it’s over and we clap.

She draws open the curtain on one side of the bedroom and we see a little room. On the wall to our right is a desk with laptops. The new dancer sits on the couch on the wall to our left. She is looking at the laptop through binoculars as the first woman climbs the ladder and disappears. Something happens. Everyone laughs but me. I’m taking notes:

brown top, long black skirt, long black hair
she looks at us through binoculars

The fire crackles from the living room.

she takes off her skirt
she’s wearing a light brown jump suit
she’s sad. She looks at the ceiling
she watches us watching
I hear a bird outside, an insistent bird
she looks at something in her hand
bird dance, arms rising, fingers fluttering
sudden switches to the pedestrian
where the room is real, not a stage,
and then back again
she pushes herself aside
arms wide now
the pedestrian room
frames the dance —
the dance frames
the pedestrian room
she circles, one arm folded, one arm out
she pushes, she circles
the woven rug supports the dance
the dance includes the woven rug

Maya Gingery. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Maya Gingery. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

The owner of the house with his dog stand in the patio. A photographer photographs.

this takes place in a city house
nestled among the trees
it becomes more vigorous
it’s more like a “dance”
the dance lives inside the apostrophes
the apostrophes live upon the dance
her hands tell a story, but it disappears as soon as it takes shape
what’s in her hand
what’s on her face
what’s in her eyes
she looks outside at something
I can’t see
She thinks she’s touching it
she turns, she “touches” us
she finds her skit upon the floor, she puts it on, she zips it up
she sits
she hold the binoculars in her lap

We clap, she salutes, she bows.

Jennie MaryTai Liu. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Jennie MaryTai Liu. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

We all go into the living room. They are now sitting around the fire. We sit down around the fire. They are wearing white eyes pasted on their face, the better to watch the fire with. A song is playing: “she jumped in the bed and rolled in my arms. She wears white headphones. The men don’t. The men rise and look out the window with their double eyes. Her eyes are pasted on her lids so she cannot see. She starts to talk in a hill-billy accent:

and tells a story
about a wild one
a trapper named Charles
generations ago
there is a very pretty girl

The men turn and watch the story teller. The men crawl like the panthers in the story. They go to the wall and stand:

Charlie cuts down a sour wood tree

I’m not following the story right now. Someone says I’m tired, or is that me? The men speak in canon:

“he said take a nap before you go to bed”
the story teller wonders why anyone would say that
Charlie went to sleep
Franky (the very pretty girl)
raises an ax
(did I miss something)
the men say something important in unison
the story teller lies down
they cremated Charlie in the fireplace
with his innards in a sack
in a holler stump
that maybe the story teller visits
I’m not quite sure
the men are speaking in chorus again
with rhythmic claps against the wall
I get scared and wish they would stop
but they don’t
they go on and on
I breathe to stop my anxiety
the men scream and howl
and I get more scared
they put Franky in jail
with her child (I think she has a child)
they find her guilty
they spirited her away
and the two men leap in place
and begin to moan or sing
then they must have found her
because I think they are hanging her
and I think she says some last words

But I am not listening to the story much now because I am thinking about that cemetery in Chautauqua County where they buried the last man they ever hanged there.

The sunset crowd. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

The sunset crowd. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

And then it’s all over and we are having coffee and doughnuts and I talk to a woman about being scared during the story and writing and traveling and journaling and lots of stuff, and then I am telling the people who did the scary story piece how much I liked it, and I go down and talk to the man who danced in the small room and tell him how much I liked it and I see one of the fire dancers and I tell him how much I liked the fire piece and then I talk to the woman with the binoculars and I tell her how much I liked the piece (am I losing all discrimination in my old age), but I really did like the pieces, and I’m having a good time and I can’t find the woman who danced in the street or the woman who did the psychedelic piece so I don’t get to tell them how much I liked their pieces and I tell Rebecca how much I liked the whole morning and then I go home but I’m coming back.

I do come back for the second performance. I don’t take notes. Mostly I remember how the light changes things. The one dancer in white is now three and they are in trees and as the light fails their dresses become whiter and whiter. The order of the fire dance is reversed and it ends with the two dancers sitting with bowls of fire in their laps. They extinguish the fire and it is now dark. There are light strips on the patio floor, the kind you bend and then they light up. What a deprived childhood I had. They weren’t invented yet but I would have loved to have played with them at night under the catalpa tree. The dance in the small room off the bedroom is gorgeous. It is lit by warm, yellow light from the desk. The gold walls light up and the dancer’s brown jumpsuit glows. She seems to float in the light. How beautiful she is against the black mirror of the windows. There are more people here at sunset and I can’t see the dance by the fireplace very well, but I can hear it and I get scared all over again.

Taisha Paggett dancing in Anna Martine Whitehead's work. Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

Taisha Paggett dancing in Anna Martine Whitehead’s work.
Photo: Andrew Mandinach.

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One Response to “Terrence Luke Johnson dives into homeLA/Highland Park, Saturday, November 16, 2013”

  1. Thank you! I missed this one, but caught the performance in Pacific Palisades — it felt like breaking and entering into a haunted house where the ghosts were all gorgeous and wielding cookies or herbal booze. Your description feels about right for this project.

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