Dance review: 'Cleopatra, CEO' by Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre
The 51st floor penthouse suite at 515 S. Flower St., the site of Heidi Duckler’s latest dance-theater piece, “Cleopatra, CEO,” is a scenic design come true for the Los Angeles choreographer.
At “Cleopatra’s” premiere over the weekend, audiences were guided through dance-theater scenes spread across 30,000 square feet of marble, burnished wood, beige carpeting, exquisite cabinetry and executive boardrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and one with a fireplace.
What more could a site-specific artist want than these rambling hallways and power chambers — once the opulent headquarters for oil corporation Atlantic Richfield — as settings for seduction, legislative mischief, war and suicide?
For the most part, Duckler unleashed her imagination for a poetic riff on events from Cleopatra's life and mythology. Johanna Sapakie, a charismatic Cleopatra, climbed atop the furniture and upon the shoulders of her servants while yards and yards of fabric unfurled across the chamber. Greek attendants, with clipboards attached to their paddles, “rowed” their stationary boats (two stone secretary cubicles). The battle between Greeks and Romans for control of the ancient world was a mad dash through a hallway, while viewers pressed against the walls.
The remarkable Roberto Lambaren vaulted like Spider-Man onto a square column made of black marble from Africa. As Mark Antony, Kevin Williamson beamed with a George Clooney twinkle in his eye, as he and Sapakie tangoed in a dining room (perhaps) off the kitchen. The couple's self-inflicted exit to the afterlife was a dance on a boardroom conference table the size of a hotel dance floor.
Cleopatra the seductress was easily portrayed and well-represented in Sapakie’s acrobatics and wily smiles. The queen as feminist power leader, however, was the one hole in Duckler’s portrait. A circuitous text was an unsatisfying stab at portraying the murderous executive. Duckler took a sympathetic stand on the female pharaoh and the opportunity to go wild and crazy with those aspects of her life was left un-taken.
Since 1985, Duckler has brought her mix of merriment and athleticism to a Los Angeles laundromat, faded hotel, jail cell or river near you. Her 11 dancers come from a range of dance and theatrical backgrounds and Duckler uses what they do best, including ballet, hip-hop and martial arts. They are strong and fearless; one imagines they were the kids who vaulted off the couch after school when mom wasn’t looking.
For “Cleopatra, CEO” it was a delightful mixed bag of movement. Duckler gave them poses in profile, recalling ancient artwork, and Hollywood cinema at its most kitschy. Guests could help themselves to plates of Caesar salad and attendants handed out dates ("spoils of war") and fanned us with golden fronds. Duckler knows what ideas and themes she wants to express, but she also wants her audience to have fun. The very classy Zoe Johnson sang gorgeously from “Tosca” and even squeezed into a kitchen cabinet at one point.
The crack production team, and particularly production designer Jeff Teeter, deserves kudos for imaginative lighting design and attention to acoustic amplification and other important details, which made this urban blast to the past possible.
— Laura Bleiberg
"Cleopatra, CEO,"Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, Paul Hastings Tower, 51st floor, 515 S. Flower St., Los Angeles. Through Feb. 25, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $40-$50. www.heididuckler.org or (818) 784-8669.
Top photo: Johanna Sapakie as Cleopatra. Below: Marissa Labog, Ja Young Kim, and Willy Souly in "Cleopatra CEO." Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times