Sep 24, 2012
Zelda Harrison

Expulsion: Dancing Across Borders at Home

The Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre sets it Site Specific Peformance Art on cross-cultural communities across the USA.

Since 1985, Heidi Duckler has been choreographing dance along the boulevards and avenues of
Los Angeles, across the USA and around the world, promoting a unique approach to performance art: site specific dance. Incorporated as the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre (HDDT) in 1988, the group now defines its role as “creating ephemeral contemporary art experiences in extraordinary places that boldly redefine the relationship between audience and art.”

Site specific dance is inherently subversive: commonly-used space that is often taken for granted become props for the most exquisite movements and unexpected exchange with the audience. Stairs meant for climbing to the next floor become an illicit corridor for a lovers’ rendez-vous and pas à deux; room service staff turn into magicians as they conjure up dreams in the beds they make. In both Duckler’s large scale works such as Sleeping with the Ambassador (Ambassador Hotel, 2003) and her iconic, more intimate works like Laundromatinee (1988-2012), HDDT creates choreography that both responds to a space and undermines assumptions regarding its original function. Since site specific dance is rooted in location, it should be no surprise that HDDT is committed to engaging the community it performs in, whether it’s in sun-drenched Miami, TinselTown or the narrow lanes of Hong Kong.

HDDT’s latest gig, the Expulsion Series, reflects this ambition, in that it invites the audience to reflect upon the demographic shifts that mark our current reality. Expulsion is based on the universal and often fragile idea of “home,” and themes of dislocation and cross-cultural collaboration. Its intent is to inspire an open dialogue about the impact these issues have on individuals, families, neighborhoods, and entire cultures.

Performed on three stories of scaffolding in a vacant lot, Expulsion has been conceived as a stage for dance, culture, and architecture. “Expulsion takes place in an empty lot and asks, ‘What has brought us to this place?’ Place for me is time, location and also a state of being,” says Heidi Duckler, Artistic Director and founder of HDDT. Using the HDDT trademark practice of the open rehearsal, work on Expulsion encourages community members to stumble upon dancers engaged in the creative development of the piece. These interactions between the public and artists serve not only as guerilla marketing, to promote word of mouth, but also inspire curiosity about the mundane environment, and to hopefully compel the audience into re-imagine their surroundings.

Expulsion came into being in 2010, when the Long Beach City Council developed a program entitled the “A LOT series”, that brought temporary visual and performance-based artwork to vacant lots in Long Beach, as part of the Arts Council for Long Beach to activate areas slated for redevelopment (approximately 40% of the city). Each project in A LOT was accompanied by an open-air symposium related to urban planning, civic engagement and art. The Arts Council Executive Director, Craig Watson commissioned HDDT to “show the site’s visual character and overall functionality.”

The Lot was located in Long Beach’s Cambodia town which Duckler felt made it imperative to work with the Cambodian community. Accordingly, HDDT collaborated with the Cambodia Khmer Arts Academy to create choreography that incorporated stories from local community members. It was an automatic hit with the audience, and inspired Heidi Duckler with the vision of bringing Expulsion into cultural communities throughout Southern California and beyond.

Here’s the current itinerary for Expulsion:

  • Glendale, California in partnership with the Armenian community, Glendale Arts, and Djanbazian Dance Company. See video excerpt below (October 2011).
  • Koreatown and Little Ethiopia communities in Los Angeles, California in collaboration with the Kim Eung Hwa Korean Dance Company, the Korean Cultural Center Los Angeles, Little Ethiopia Cultural and Resource Center, and the Little Ethiopia Cultural Group Dancers (May 2012).
  • Portland, Oregon in collaboration with the Northwest & Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company (August 2012).
  • East Los Angeles with Gema Sandoval’s Danza Floricanto/USA and the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (Spring 2013).

Significantly, Expulsion has grown into a program that encompasses not only performances, but also panel discussions and free community workshops via HDDT’s Curbside Conversations program. The panel discussions are led by influential arts and culture leaders who discuss the importance of artistic collaboration in their communities, and explore themes of cross-cultural collaboration, animating vacant space, and give community members a forum to share their ideas and opinions. Additionally, Expulsion offers a unique platform for the local dance communities to collaborate and showcase their work.

To keep up with HDDT, visit their Facebook page or stalk them on Twitter @Heididuckler

XCD would like to thank Heidi Duckler, Emily Wanserski and Shanda Domango for providing information about HDDT.
Photo Credits:
Expulsion Glendale: Andre Andreev & Sarah Tamor
Expulsion Long Beach: Vivian Babuts

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