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Whew, it's a Hothouse inside

Choreographers gather at UCLA over three weeks to try out ideas. New works blossom, as does camaraderie.

September 24, 2006|Susan Josephs | Special to The Times

FOR three weeks just before Labor Day, choreographer John Pennington experienced his own particular slice of heaven. Every day for four hours, he arrived at the same spacious, sunlight-filled studio and churned out a series of solos and duets that had been brewing in his brain for years. "It got to the point where I was dreaming about the pieces at night," he said.

Pennington was one of a small group of choreographers selected to participate in the second annual Hothouse Program, a residency designed exclusively for Los Angeles-based dance makers to develop their craft. Sponsored by UCLA's department of world arts and cultures, Hothouse at first blush seemed a modest undertaking. Ensconced in the Westwood campus' newly renovated Glorya Kaufman Hall, with its seven pristine studios, the program offered such deceptively simple perks as free workspace, time and the opportunity to network with other artists.

But when viewed as a resource with long-term potential, the residency assumes a much greater significance. Indeed, within the next two months, L.A. audiences will be able to see work that grew out of the program by at least three of the participants (see box).

"The reason Hothouse is so important is that it's not tied to anything but art making," said Rosanna Gamson, one of the most established choreographers in this year's bunch. "Raising the artistic level of dance in L.A. starts if we're all making better art."

Conceived by UCLA choreography professor Victoria Marks, Hothouse as an idea has ample precedent. Marks directed a Hothouse in 1998 for a contemporary dance center in London, and choreographic residencies in the U.S. abound. This year, for example, the venerable Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts offered a weeklong residency in August for choreographers interested in community-based dance making. Dance New Amsterdam, a multifaceted educational and presenting organization in New York, received a National Endowment for the Arts grant specifically to further its ongoing artist-in-residency program. University of Maryland students had the opportunity to take part in an intensive weeklong residency this summer. And this fall, Stanford University will offer a residency for students to develop work with pioneering postmodern choreographer Anna Halprin.

In Los Angeles in particular, though, the prospect of a continuing annual residency is a huge boon "for all of us who make dance here," said Marks. "Because it's great for artists not only to have space but to have space at the same time. People complain that there's no mecca here, no central place to go, but I don't think that's a problem if you can create links between people and even institutions."

Marks described the "formidable challenges faced by the local dance community": L.A.'s sprawl, the limited number of producing dance venues and the lack of other resources to facilitate the choreographic process. "There's also the feeling that this is a one-business town," she said. "Dance artists often feel isolated, and for our community to thrive, we need opportunities not only to explore our ideas but to be colleagues to one another."

"Hothouse meets a need that has been present in L.A. for a long time," agreed Pennington. "Having a residency like this basically says you are valued, that for these three weeks, this is your daily job, your primary focus. This can only elevate our art form."

Marks selected the seven Hothouse participants from 35 applicants, and she purposely sought a mix of established and emerging artists. With the exception of Leilani Chan, a multidisciplinary performance artist, the others were all contemporary dance choreographers at different stages in their careers. Ally Voye, for example, received her undergraduate degree from UCLA just last year, while Pennington and Gamson have established companies.

Everyone received private studio space for four hours a day. Aside from meeting for lunch on Fridays and showing their work on the final day, they could do as they pleased.

"I tried to look at who was making the kind of work that could best use a boost like Hothouse and how that could be significant to their evolution as artists," said Marks. "Then I just stepped back and hoped for a kind of alchemy. Organizing Hothouse is like choreographing a dance. You don't know the shape of it until you just do it and then see what it reveals."


'A residency at home'

WITH her World Wide dance company, Gamson frequently receives opportunities to perform and conduct residencies outside Los Angeles. In town, however, she does not have her own studio and "generally suffers from a space problem." Hothouse "gave me the chance to do a residency at home and actually pay my dancers a salary as opposed to just feeding them on the road," said the 46-year-old choreographer, who relocated to L.A. from New York 10 years ago.

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