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Bootleg Dance Festival hopes to display dance as it has never been seen

Seven groups have been commissioned to produce new works. Forward thinking is paramount.

March 03, 2011|By Rachel B. Levin, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Kristen Leahy, of Wife, rehearses "Jane" her solo in the performance "Crone," a dance based interactive projection piece. Wife performs Sunday March 6 at Bootleg Dance Festival.
Kristen Leahy, of Wife, rehearses "Jane" her solo in the performance… (LIZ O. BAYLEN, Los Angeles…)

It sounds like a job for a robotics researcher, not a choreographer: figure out a way to bathe a stage in infrared light so that a computer can send a process signal to a suspended projector. But this is the first Bootleg Dance Festival, kicking off Friday at the Bootleg Theater near Echo Park, and forward-thinking approaches to dance are par for the course.

The Bootleg, a renovated 1930s warehouse on a gritty stretch of Beverly Boulevard, may be more familiar to alternative music fans who regularly pack its lobby lounge to see acts such as Joseph Arthur and Jenny O. The room's experimental spirit makes it an important venue for other arts needing room to stretch. Alicia Adams, artistic director of the Bootleg, says that in evaluating submissions for the dance festival, she and co-curator Heidi Duckler of Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre were looking for "people who are really trying to rediscover dance in new ways."

For instance, hip-hop choreographer Amy Campion — whose Antics Performance troupe is one of seven local groups commissioned by the Bootleg to premiere new work for the festival — is trying out new interactive video technology that relies upon infrared light. Her breakdance-inspired piece "Illuminated Manuscript" will incorporate video projections that follow the dancers' movements in real time, so "a dancer moving [his or her] hand across a screen might create a pixilated video shadow of that arm that leaves tracers behind it," Campion says.

The special effects create a kind of high-tech extension of the hip-hop acrobatics on the stage, which are partly improvised and thus different each performance.

Keith Glassman's "Dancing With Ghosts" will include a video portion based on vintage home movies to explore the theme of generational memory while in "Crone" — presented by the trio of Nina McNeely, Kristen Leahy and Jasmine Albuquerque, known collectively as WIFE — projected video will provide the only light source.

The name of the game is innovation, but that doesn't have to take the form of tech-heavy production. Adams and Duckler were also looking for originality in the ways the pieces were conceived. Post Natyam Collective, for instance, a Los Angeles-based group of multinational female choreographers who explores identity politics through South Asian dance forms, created "SUNOH! Tell Me, Sister" in part over the Internet, collaborating virtually from far-flung countries.

For collaborators Jamie Benson and Andrae Gonzalo, experiences on L.A. Metro buses inspired the piece "Mass Transit," a meditation on what choreographer Benson calls the "haphazard communities" that arise when riders from all walks of life are thrown together — usually not by choice — in the small spaces of public transport.

The dance "functions very much like your experience when you get on the bus," says Gonzalo, who designed the costumes for the piece. "If you are willing to not look out the window and just watch folks come and go, it's like going to the theater."

Benson extends that transit-as-theater metaphor even further to characterize the Bootleg's weekend of dance: "The festival itself is a bus ride, because you have so many different dancers from all over the city coming together."

In fact, one of the objectives in launching this festival was to gather an eclectic dance community that's spread out across L.A.'s sprawl.

"I think dancers need another home," says Adams. The Bootleg Theater has hosted a handful of dance performances since its beginnings in 2006, and the festival marks a concerted effort to incorporate more dance into the theater's calendar. "We have a sprung floor .... and it always has seemed to me that dancers' bodies from the way they move look beautiful in the space."

The festival is coming at a time of restructuring for the Bootleg. The space was born as a theater venture and developed its indie music following through a deepening partnership with the music programming of the Fold. Now Adams is turning her attention to producing and presenting what she calls "crossbred super hybrid events" that incorporate two or more artistic genres from theater to film, music, spoken word and dance.

She believes that the interdisciplinary collision of dance with other art forms represented in this weekend's festival reflects a diversity that is uniquely L.A., adding, "Our mission and our focus is this city."

calendar@latimes.com

Bootleg Dance Festival

Where: Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Friday-Sunday, 8 p.m.

Price: $18 per night; Festival Pass (all 3 nights): $40

Info: (213) 389-3856; http://www.bootlegtheater.org

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