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A flood of moves about town

Stephan Koplowitz's new ensemble, TaskForce, is among those making a splash in SoCal locales.

June 22, 2008|Sara Wolf | Special to The Times

Spreading across the Southland in an intricate web of highways and byways, Los Angeles is not an easy place to get to know, let alone love. Compared with other urban regions, its size and sprawl can frustrate a newcomer's efforts to grasp the totality of the city.

Yet for choreographer Stephan Koplowitz, who relocated here two years ago after living in Brooklyn, N.Y., for 24 years, becoming acquainted with L.A. has been a welcome surprise.

"I used to say that if New York City was an egg, Los Angeles was that egg dropped and splattered on pavement," says the new dean of CalArts' Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance. "But L.A. isn't trying to be like New York. There's something wonderful about that -- about not pretending to be anything else other than what you are."

Ask him what he thinks L.A. is and Koplowitz replies, "Truly, a city of possibilities." And starting next Sunday, he and his new eight-dancer ensemble, TaskForce, will present a week's worth of site-specific performances -- that is, performances created for specific locations -- to express that sense of possibility through movement. Their ambitious outdoor project, titled "Liquid Landscapes," aims to map the city through its waterways, from the Watercourt at downtown's California Plaza to the Port of Los Angeles, from the Los Angeles River to the beaches of Malibu.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, June 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Choreographer's collaborator: An article about site-specific dance in Sunday's Calendar section said choreographer Hana van der Kolk had collaborated on a stop-motion film with Adam Overton. Her collaborator was Michael Parker.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 06, 2008 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Choreographer's collaborator: An article last Sunday about site-specific dance said choreographer Hana van der Kolk had collaborated on a stop-motion film with Adam Overton. Her collaborator was Michael Parker.

Water is also the theme stitching together the three-year umbrella project of which "Liquid Landscapes" is the first installment. Commissioned by the Transatlantic Arts Consortium, a U.S.-European partnership of artistic and educational institutions (including CalArts), Koplowitz and TaskForce (Nicole Berger, Rachel Butler-Green, Marisa Jimenez, Josh Marin, Storme Sundberg, Kevin Williamson, Alexandria Yalj and Sarah Young) will travel to Plymouth, England, next year and then to the industrial Ruhr region in Germany, where Koplowitz says 750 bridges cross the Ruhr, Rhine and Lippe rivers, in 2010.

Los Angeles is no stranger to site-specific performances. Choreographers such as Loretta Livingston, butoh artist Oguri and Heidi Duckler of Collage Dance Theater have long excavated the ghosts and stories embedded in historical sites (including in Duckler's 1995 investigation of the L.A. River, "Mother Ditch"). But lately a crop of area newcomers including Koplowitz has been falling in love with Los Angeles and producing innovative choreography that not only offers locals the opportunity to encounter the city through fresh perspectives but also expands the definition of "site-specific."

Warming up to L.A.

Like Koplowitz, Hana van der Kolk and Sara Wookey moved to L.A. in 2006, although for these younger choreographers the transition was a difficult one.

Van der Kolk so hated her first year here that the displaced New Yorker swore to move back to Manhattan as soon as she could. Wookey found the change from Amsterdam, where she had lived and worked since 1996, to be especially disturbing whenever she climbed into a car. The sensation, combined with the bombardment of visual stimuli from billboards and building signage, was enough to persuade her to forswear driving for two years.

Van der Kolk's attitude, however, changed abruptly one day when she was collaborating on a stop-motion film with artist Adam Overton at a warehouse that was under construction. While improvising on the roof, she says, she looked out across the city in all directions. The sight was thrilling. "I said to myself, 'OK, I think I can do this.' "

For Wookey, the shift was incremental. "I realized I had to accept Los Angeles as home," she recalls. So she set up a studio downtown and set out on what she calls "drifts," wandering through the region's many communities -- Silver Lake, Koreatown, Chinatown, El Segundo. She also trekked the entire length of Wilshire Boulevard on a Los Angeles Conservancy walking tour.

At first, the goal was simply to slow down. "I was looking for intimacy in a city that doesn't invite that, so the walking allowed me to literally get in touch with L.A., to feel it beneath my feet."

The multidisciplinary choreographer soon discovered that she was attracted to empty storefronts, deserted movie theaters and blank billboards -- all sources of respite from the sensory overload she had been experiencing. "I was so happy they were there. When you're walking, you slow down and don't see them as 'urban decay.' As an artist, I saw them as spaces of imagination as well as spaces of rest." She began photographing these "breathing rooms" and documenting their locations. To date, she has archived more than 300 shots.

The photographs became the basis for Wookey's duet "Walking LA/(Sur)-facing the City," which was presented at Gallery 727 downtown in March. For the accompanying score, she worked with Michael Deragon, another newcomer to L.A., who had been accumulating "field recordings" of the city.

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