The excitement of site-specific performance events comes from the process of discovery: watching a creative artist explore, illuminate and be influenced by an unusual (non-theatrical) environment.
Unfortunately, the opening program of Vision Interarts' four-night "Park Plaza: Dance and Performance" series, Thursday at the superbly ornate and atmospheric Park Plaza Hotel near MacArthur Park, completely missed the point. In piece after piece, the hotel's grand staircase and formal ballroom served merely as substitutes for a conventional stage.
None of the seven artists who presented work on the program attempted to redefine the standard performer-audience relationship, to incorporate more than one site in a single work or even to fully utilize the architectural peculiarities of a given area.
This was an evening of mostly conservative, workshop-level choreography and performance art dumped into (and ultimately overwhelmed by) a picturesque but largely irrelevant hotel setting.
Indeed, several artists sought to neutralize the Park Plaza's decor by covering carpets, mirrors and windows until they achieved a facsimile of the standard black-box dance studio. A very half-baked notion this--trying to make the site of a site-specific work look non-specific. Half-baked and doomed.
In the dimly lit tableaux of "Zoom," Peter Schroff appeared nude at the top of the staircase, fired off strobe-like flashes from behind his body, descended backward, pulled on his pants, dropped a knife onto an empty chair and then--surrounded by bright tubes of light--urged us to think of what we'd be walking away from when we left the room. Think about it? We could barely see it.
Anita Pace's pop-dance, sleazoid "Traum" for Dance/L.A. had four women in men's hats and coats dancing none too comfortably up the staircase, changing into dresses and then, amid failed attempts at relationship, sprawling violently downward--the most thrilling moment on the program.
Over in the ballroom, Annamaura Silverblatt's "On the Way to Becoming" used three women and two men in promising evocations of courtly dances that eventually disintegrated into assaultive (and unpersuasive) thrashing. When the dancers removed their tattered suggestions of period clothes (with sleek, contemporary unitards underneath), the strife ceased. So much for the uses of the past.
Two ballroom pieces depicted mental illness: B.J. Goodman's wan solo "Goodbye Song" (a solemn dance sketch of a restless, repressed biddy) and Linda Sibio's inventive if overlong "Rhythms of Rage" (two satiric monologues--one performed in a wheelchair, one on stilts--illuminating the highly unusual personal stress suffered by the Bride of Frankenstein).
Two other ballroom pieces depicted motherhood: Cheri Gaulke's silly "Annunciation" (a manic skit about virgin birth) and Heidi Duckler and Bonnie Lavin's "One of Four: Poultry" (a gentle, unassuming quartet about chicks and a hen, decently executed by Collage Dance Theatre). The latter featured live music composed/conducted by J. Eric Schmidt.
Finally, the evening was very dolefully paced, with interminable waits when the audience moved from the staircase to the ballroom or back. Hasn't anyone at Vision Interarts seen "Tamara"?