On Friday the Pacific Design Center will come alive with dancers representing the four seasons. Autumn will tap her way down a stairwell, while the dual personalities of Winter wind up and down moving escalators. Yet what guests might not realize is that the entire spectacle—including the choreography and the music—was nailed down in a single day, less than a week before showtime.
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre specializes in site-specific dance, meaning they choreograph their work not on proscenium-style stages, but in unconventional spaces. Since Duckler founded the company in 1985, they’ve danced in laundromats, hotels, empty pools, and baseball diamonds.
This latest performance, Once in a Whale, is in conjunction with Pacific Design Center’s annual design showcase, WESTWEEK. PDC opened in 1975 and was designed by architect César Pelli. It is often referred to as the ‘blue whale,’ given that it’s a very large, very blue building. That moniker plays into the title of the dance piece, as well as WESTWEEK’s 2018 theme, “Design is Global.” Duckler said it seemed to fit well with the company’s work, which is currently focused on climate change. Recently, the company built a 15-foot steel fish, designed by Alex Ward, that dancers used as their stage during their Ebb & Flow: Culver City Festival.
“About 500 people came to that festival all talking about climate change and how art can focus our attention on that subject,” Duckler said. “We do a lot of educational programming, too, to help kids understand what’s going on in the world and to feel like they can participate and express their thoughts and feelings about that subject as well.”
“Once in a Whale” is a four-part dance piece, about an hour long, in which each season gets its own vignette. Duckler conceived the show within the space, assigning each season its own personality traits. Autumn is a charming mess, the type that always “sleeps through her alarm clock and is always late,” Duckler said. She’ll be portrayed by La La Land assistant choreographer Jillian Mayers, before passing the reigns to dancer Ryan Page, who conveys the smothering presence of Summer. The resilient Spring (Himerria Wortham) tumbles among the handrails of a stairwell, while the dual personality of Winter is portrayed by dancers Raymond Ejiofor and Tess Hewlett. These two have choreographed their segment along a pair of escalators, which will be turned on and moving throughout their dance. The four seasons will then convene together on a sweeping stairway.
“[The seasons] are all kind of jumbled up, as they are today,” Duckler said.
What’s particularly fascinating is that while Duckler had already seen the space and picked out the areas where each performer would dance, the actual performers put the whole thing together in an eight-hour rehearsal this past Saturday. Percussionist Nick Hon and violinist Yvette Holzwarth came up with the music as the dancers figured out their moves, and set and costume designer Mimi Haddon was on hand, laying out bright pieces of fabric.
“The content is mined from the location,” Duckler said. “We create the work on site. We don’t create it in a studio and transpose it.”
Duckler added, “I love doing pieces that are part of the fabric of famous architecture in our city. I’ve always been curious in creating work [in the Pacific Design Center], so this is a wonderful opportunity.”
Once in a Whale takes place on Friday, March 23 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 for general admission, $25 for WeHo residents and students, and $25 for a post-performance reception with wine, cheese, dessert, and a meet-and-greet with the artists and Councilmember John D’Amico.
In the future, the company will bring their steel fish to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro for more art and conversation surrounding the environment. Keep up with Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre online here.