by CHRISTINA CAMPODONICO
I arrive at the apartment complex in Angelino Heights, via a winding drive that leaves me mildly disoriented, a woman is sitting on the building’s tiered front lawn, unwrapping Saran Wrap with her foot. When she sees me, she explains that she’s “trying something out,” and goes on unwinding the long sticky plastic sheet from its spool onto the grass. Then she rolls and wraps herself in it, experimenting with the material on various parts of her body. I pass her and step inside the apartment, where a man slinks along the floor and a woman washes her dishes in the kitchen sink. An echoing voice emerges from the bathroom. Meanwhile, a dog named Echo sits perched like a sphinx between a dancer’s legs as he stretches into a straddle pose in the middle of the living room. School-aged children roam around, munching on kumquats and chips, while their mothers watch dancers rehearsing in the hallway to Ragtime tunes, occasionally capturing these moments with their smart phones.
At this homeLA rehearsal, you can’t always tell where the performance ends and real life begins. It feels as if a traveling circus has squeezed into this tiny apartment (the residence of married couple Cary Gallagher and Lynn Ellen Bathke), but there is a sense of calm within the eye of the storm.
At the center of this organized chaos, or rather at its periphery, is homeLA founder and choreographer Rebecca Bruno, who brings salon-style rehearsals and performances like this one into private spaces throughout Los Angeles.
Frustrated by the lack of rehearsal and performance venues for young artists — particularly dancers — and inspired by the intimate jazz concerts her parents hosted in her childhood home, Bruno transformed her three-bedroom bungalow in San Diego into a space for presenting experimental dance work soon after she graduated from UC San Diego in 2008. When she later moved to Los Angeles, she brought the idea with her, establishing homeLA in the City of Angels.
The organization — a loose collective of artists of various disciplines (largely dancers and choreographers) — has presented over ten curated events throughout Southern California since its inception in 2013.
At the rehearsal for homeLA’s February 20th and 21st performances in Angelino Heights, Bruno lingers at the edges of the small apartment along with the paintings, photographs, and ornaments that line the walls.
In the two-plus hour rehearsal, it’s easy to forget that Bruno’s even there, until she asks a dancer if there’s anything she can do to help with a particularly sticky part of the choreography that’s taking place between a side table and a bookshelf.
Though homeLA is her brainchild, Bruno prefers to take a hands-off approach — allowing the artists to respond to the space however they wish. She sees herself more as a “facilitator” or “go-between” who matches artists wanting to experiment with their craft in a private space with the eager residents who want to bring live performances into their homes.
“I don’t want to be a determining force in the content of the work,” says Bruno. “I want to be an encouraging force in the content of work, so I believe, in a sense, [in] holding space for multiple expressions.”
In a city known for its constant search for a center (or perhaps, not having one), simply holding space for salon-style performances — especially for dance — is an idea welcomed by homeLA’s artists, hosts, and audiences.
“That intersection of public and private space. It has that element of intimacy,” says Heyward Bracey, an L.A.-based dancer and choreographer with the experimental dance company WXPT, who’s been dancing in L.A. for over a decade. “Responding to [a] home is a different kind of inspiration than that for the stage,” continues Bracey, whose homeLA dance was inspired by reading The Vorrh, a book he found on the hosts’ nightstand. “It brings art and life closer together,” he says.
Watching these homeLA performers rehearse, it’s clear that this art doesn’t so much imitate life as puts it under the microscope. In a secluded kitchen nook with a countertop and cabinets, Lindsey Lollie (the aforementioned artist with the plastic wrap) and Julia Planine-Troiani (both from the company szalt) rehearse a duet of their own making.
Sitting on the counter, Lollie holds a glass mixing-bowl in front of Planine-Troiani’s face. Planine-Troiani, staring into the center of the bowl, makes animated and grotesque faces. She pulls on her lip with her finger, tracing a long, slow circle around her gums, then pulls her cheeks apart and clenches her teeth, revealing a skeletal grin. The sequence ends with her rubbing her finger around her brow, sticking the digit in her ear, circling her head along the rim of the bowl, then bowing her head and placing her index finger into the air, as if to check the direction of the wind.
The duet is peppered with other comical moments that make clever use of the space’s architecture; Planine-Troiani sticks her head into a cabinet and, at the end, Lollie folds her partner in order to push her into a cupboard. She fits precisely.
In explaining the premise of the work, Planine-Troiani says that she wanted to explore how the face could perform a dance, just as the body does. “What can the skin of the cheek do, or your eyeballs do?” she muses.
But the space itself also provided some inspiration. Planine-Troiani explains the corner reminded her of the breakfast nook in the house where she grew up. She wondered what Bathke and Gallagher — or anyone — would do there in that sequestered space when no one was looking. The piece became about “bridging the gap between what you do in private and inviting someone in,” she explains.
As for the hosts, inviting not only artists, but complete strangers, to rehearsals and performances in their personal space is not as awkward as it might seem.
“There’s something strangely normal about the whole thing,” says Gallagher. “You’re not having guests over. You have live-in performers, who find new life in your household. There’s secret voices in the bathroom, lots of bodies on the floor, patty cake in the pantry.”
For alum homeLA host and visual artist Michelle Jane Lee, putting on a homeLA event in her apartment-cum-art-studio was quite illuminating.
“It made me see my space in a different way when the dancers came in,” says Lee. “It was no longer my studio where I worked… this is actually a space with its own energy that other people can feed off of.”
Seeing the artists use her apartment, she adds, compelled her to reevaluate roles she had assigned to each quarter of her home. “My kitchen was just my kitchen. My bed was just my bed, and my desk was just where I do my work… but I never allowed myself to use it as a creative space because I had the studio. Then I realized… the entire house is the studio.”
That sense of discovery drives much of homeLA’s creative process. The group has gathered in spaces as far as Brooklyn and as architecturally significant as the J.B. Merrill House in Mount Washington.
“We’re sort of open to the unknown,” says Bruno, “And as each artist’s process unfolds, we find a way of bringing our works together.”
While the results of these collaborations may differ each time, the motivation remains the same — to create opportunities for experimental dance in Los Angeles to find its center.
“I feel like the initial impulse [for homeLA] was really about centrality — so not feeling that Los Angeles had a center for dance, but multiple different centers for multiple different types of dancing,” says Bruno. “I feel like homeLA tries to be a decentralized center in some way, or a community through the expanse of Los Angeles. ”
For Bruno, running homeLA has been a kind of urban odyssey to “find a dance home in the city.” Like the city of Los Angeles itself, that home is ever on the move.
Rehearsing 1 ☝️at a time. ???? ? by @_szalt_ ・・・ Rehearsal for @home_la. Feb 20-21. Echo Park/Angelino Heights. HomeLA.org for tickets. #Szalt #dance #art #rehearsal #homela // #angelinoheights #echopark #smallspaces #smalldances #face #hands #prius #experiencehome #discoverla #losangeles #lastory #dance #movement #? @jujueda @lawllie @ibathke @tallninja
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HOMELA: ANGELINO HEIGHTS, FEBRUARY 20 & 21.
Heyward Bracey, Andrew Mandinach, Emily Marchand, and the collaborative movement company, szalt are in rehearsal from December to February developing new works in response to Lynn and Cary’s home in Angelino Heights. Together they will form a one-of-a-kind performance event to be experienced for two days only.