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Dance review: Collage Dance Theatre's 'Governing Bodies' at L.A. City Hall

November 7, 2010 |  3:58 pm


The brass was out in force and so were the suits.  Cellphone yammering also meant that power brokers were making deals, greasing the wheels of justice.  Or were they?  This was not your typical day at Los Angeles City Hall, the historic edifice built in 1928. 

In fact on Saturday night, the assembled masses were called together by a trumpeter (composer Daniel Rosenboom), while members of Collage Dance Theatre, founded by Heidi Duckler in 1985, slid, slithered and sauntered about the cool marble floor of the Byzantine-style rotunda. “Governing Bodies,” Duckler’s 60-minute premiere (repeating Saturday at 4 and 9 p.m.), had begun. The politics of performance could be likened to real-life machinations:  The conception, smart and idealistic; the execution, disappointing and not quite, well, democratic, at least from this audience member’s point of view. 


For Duckler, queen of site-specific dance, choreography relies on spaces other than traditional stages.  The rotunda provided beauty and fine sight lines:  It was easy to check out b-boy Rawbzilla’s head-twirlings and Marissa Labog’s, Albertossy Espinoza’s and Ja-Young Kim’s purposeful sliding in socks. As the music crescendoed (Gavin Templeton and Vinny Golia added clarinets and saxes to Rosenboom’s dense score), the circle dance, even with neo Irish-stepdancing and handholding, felt right. Performers and viewers were united, and -- pardon the pun -- on seemingly equal footing.

But the long narrow hallway proved problematic. While elegiac clarinet and alto sax provided aural stimulation, it was difficult to watch the dancers from our crushed-near-the-back makeshift seats. Kim and Rawbzilla did a sullen duet; Espinoza, Willy Souly and Flannery Gregg pounded on closed doors. Unfortunately, even Terpsichore couldn’t penetrate these corridors of power, where claustrophobia permeated the dancers’ squirming bodies and repetition ruled, despite the occasional arabesque torqued to a wall.

The council chamber was another matter.  Seated in pews of this church-like room, one could barely see the “meeting” unfold.  Dancers ran, jumped and twirled a bit, but the only visible sign of anarchy was somebody throwing piles of papers in the air.  Lianne Arnold’s video -- a guy literally talking about trash –- was weird and unfunny, having little to do with politics, of the body or otherwise.

Small redemption came with the finale on the wonderfully expansive Spring Street steps.  With Disney Concert Hall and downtown L.A. as backdrop, this locale provided opportunities for big moves, with some 22 dancers participating to a noble accompaniment of horns, winds and vocals.  But “Aida” it wasn’t.  Buses cruised by; Labog did backbends, clung to a lamppost, stretched; a neo-flamencan stomped out justice; b-boys hip-hopped in tentative spurts.  And there was even a powerful moment of unison crawling, but, like the great mare Zenyatta, Duckler, too, came up short this time in her sprint to City Hall.

-- Victoria Looseleaf

Collage Dance Theatre’s “Governing Bodies” repeats at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles, Sat., 4 p.m. (sold out) and 9 p.m., $25-$40, (818) 784-8669 or


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Dancing in architecture -- meet Heidi Duckler

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Images: The Collage Dance Theatre at City Hall. Credits: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times