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Perspective: Grand Park's opening weekend a cause for celebration

There was dancing aplenty at the festivities for the park, which has the potential to be a popular respite from the hectic L.A. pace.

July 29, 2012|By Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times
  • Gina Grant teaches a Zumba Fitness routine during National Dance Day at the Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday.
Gina Grant teaches a Zumba Fitness routine during National Dance Day at… (Christina House, For The…)

Downtown Los Angeles could really use more public dance sequences.

Typically the stuff of choreographed big-screen fantasies that probably haven't been seen in this part of town since Joseph Gordon-Levitt's giddy turn in"(500) Days of Summer,"synchronized public movements just don't pair well with traffic, crowded streets and concrete. Yet there many Angelenos were on Saturday afternoon, twisting to perky instructions from "So You Think You Can Dance" judge Mary Murphy on a broad, inviting chunk of grass that now resides between Grand Avenue and Hill Street.

This is our new reality in Los Angeles or at least the reality envisioned by the Music Center in the first of a two-day celebration in honor of the initial phase of Grand Park opening to the public. The closest thing downtown has had to a front lawn since the grassy heyday of Pershing Square, the park will eventually cut an open path from City Hall to the Music Center. And though it remains to be seen whether it can overcome the neighborhood's challenges — its fragmented pace of development, its sizable homeless population — for one sunny weekend the vision for the park as a respite from the city's typically hectic pace had to be considered a success.

PHOTOS: Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park

On a sun-baked Saturday that kept a costumed street team from Cirque Du Soleil's "Iris" busy distributing branded hand-fans (some acrobats from the show had performed earlier in the day), Grand Park was alive with a bustle that spread beyond its stage butting up against Grand Avenue. Children and parents splashed in front of the Will Memorial Fountain, which now features a puddle-deep splash pool and a plaza of water spouts that became the park's most popular feature as temperatures rose.

Granted, at times the park's long, comparatively slender frame between the oppressively bland beiges of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration and the Mosk Courthouse can from some angles make the place feel like less of a pastoral escape and more of an exquisitely landscaped hallway. But as black-clad dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy arced and weaved to a score resembling the angelic atmospherics of Sigur Ros with the backdrop of City Hall's landmark tower, the rest of the city briefly melted away.

All that remained was a performance, a relaxed crowd and a merciful breeze that brought everyone together, and the feeling was just as prototypically summer-like as our postcards promise. Brief turns by a young tap ensemble and a "Romeo and Juliet"-inspired hip-hop dance crew earned cheers as the day went on.

Even the park's moderate uphill setting, cited in a recent review by The Times' Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne, seemed to make sense in the context of a performance, allowing distant views of the stage with a natural, amphitheater-like slope.

PHOTOS: Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park

The early feel of Grand Park isn't entirely perfect: Shade can be hard to come by on warm afternoons, and on Sunday a few patches of grass had to be covered with artificial turf to neutralize a few improbably damp sections, which forced most of the crowd to the fringe of the lawn on blankets, camping chairs and the park's movable pink furniture.

Featuring an eclectic lineup of local music co-presented by Grand Performances, the second-day crowd seemed smaller but no less grateful as soulful music from East L.A.'s Quetzal and Fanny Franklin and the Gents breezily soared overhead. With the park scheduled to remain open until 10 p.m., it was easy to imagine it one day becoming a complementary force during summer nights with Grand Performances' California Plaza location a few blocks away.

With tangled African guitar lines and sunny harmonies, headlinersFool's Goldformed a soundtrack to reading the newspaper, applying sunblock and even some dancing as a few toddlers tumbled on the grass — in short, the portrait of an idealized weekend afternoon in the city. Time will tell how sustainable such feelings will be as the park becomes folded into everyday life, but for one sunny weekend, Grand Park looked and sounded a lot like something capable of carving out a place of its own, something that's ours.

chris.barton@latimes.com

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