Southern California is writhing with modern dance, all free and alfresco and quite audacious.
Next weekend it will be "Palisades," composed and produced by Jacki Apple of Culver City, starring 20 professional dancers and 10 senior citizens from the Santa Monica Recreation Center.
It is billed as a cliffhanger in five acts because it portrays people living on the edge. Incidentally, it will be performed on the edge of a cliff in Palisades Park.
Today and Sunday, Mary Jane Eisenberg's "Boundary Waters" will play the beach at Santa Monica.
It's a traveling environmental performance that will travel 200 yards from Lifeguard Station 26 to Lifeguard Station 25 with Eisenberg leading its environment--five dancers in black bathing suits followed by the Enormous Bones trombone band who will dismantle their instruments and play them like conch shells.
Of course we don't understand it, this art form as dim as Christo's wrapped bridges, this pastime of persons who probably smoke nuclear waste.
"People do seem to think modern dance is very serious, very dark, very grim," Eisenberg agreed. She is looking a little dark in a buzz cut, ruby stud earrings, black jeans and combat boots. "It might be that when Martha Graham started in the 1920s she did a lot of Greek myths, a lot of narrative work, Joan of Arc, Night Journey, Lamentation, and that started to set public opinion.
"But with people like Twyla Tharp coming in and doing 'Hair,' people have started to enjoy and popularize modern dance.
"Historically, at the turn of the century, it was a social statement, an attempt to free the body, to free the movement as opposed to ballet which is codified. It said: 'Let's take off the corsets. Let's take off the clothes that confined the body and the spirit and let's express ourselves freely.' "
For Eisenberg, 36, the rewards have been huge. She teaches modern dance at Cal State Long Beach, has danced from New York to Holland, from Yugoslavia to England. That appearance meant jumping in and out of cold water in a bathtub on a drafty London stage. In November. No matter. It was still an appearance at Sadler's Wells.
She knows that if there are 1,000 followers of today's performance on Santa Monica beach, about 800 will be sand potatoes who just strolled over to see what was doing. But, she says, they will be exposed to the art and they will interpret what they will and most will be caught up in the sheer exhilaration of the happening.
"Boundary Waters' will be five trombonists and five dancers and five what we call markers, dancers who carry long poles for staking your claim on the land.
"The work is in three parts. The first section is about this natural element of the beach and the water, the sun, the sand, and there are movements where the winds are pushing you like a sailboat. The trombones play Beach Boys tunes and they'll make bird sounds.
"Then we go parade-style up to Lifeguard Station 25 and the second section. It's about people and relationships and the dancers mime coming to the beach, carrying a big cassette player, playing volleyball. That's done to Calypso music.
"We parade to the third section and that's about the fun you can have at the beach. You know: 'I'll race you down to the corner and back.' They'll try and drag one dancer to the water and bury another in the sand. At the very, very end, they run into the water and that's the end of the piece."
There's no message, she says, to this work sponsored by the Santa Monica Arts Commission. It's just neat, enjoyable entertainment. There is, she adds, no audience involvement. Attendance is participation.
"And you get a little bit of culture right there on the beach where you least expect it."
"Boundary Waters," at Ocean Park Boulevard and Barnard Way, Santa Monica, starting at Lifeguard Station 26. Today and Sunday at 3 p.m.
"Palisades," at the Rose Garden Trellis House, Palisades Park, August 1-2, at 7 p.m.