May 28, 2015

A Matter of Place: Dancing Through Chinatown's Changes

Usually, when people attend a concert, the symphony, a ballet or a play, where the show is happening had some influence on their decision to go. People are just as drawn to the Greek Theatre or the Hollywood Bowl or Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as they are to whatever is happening on the stage. Seeing a movie at the Chinese or the Egyptian is an event.

But that film or performance would be more or less the same, regardless of where it took place. The play's the thing, after all.

But there are a growing number of opportunities to see all different types of spaces be transformed into a stage, inspiring the music or choreography that takes place in, on, and around them. These immersive performances might take you into a church, a former bank, a mansion, an abandoned hospital before it becomes senior housing, or – in the case of Chinatown Blues – in an old retail building that's being renovated while rehearsals are happening, even minutes before the show's opening night on Friday, May 29.

On Spring Street, down the block from LA's Chinatown Gold Line Metro station...

...there's a building covered in scaffolding and tarps, which mask fragile windows and historic brickwork.

Built in 1912 as a warehouse, this is the former Chinatown Phước Lộc Thọ Center shopping center / swap meet, where choreographer Heidi Duckler has brought her dance troupe for their next performance.

The audience will enter from North New High Street, at the rear of the former Vietnamese-style bazaar, whose bustling businesses once included a karaoke studio, music/video store, gift shop, locksmith, and Diva Girl, a clothing store – all run by ethnic Chinese immigrants from Vietnam.

While it's currently being renovated into a mixed use retail and creative office space, Portuguese street artist Vhils (née Alexandre Farto) is creating one of two Chinatown building murals here.

Renovation was supposed to be completed in November 2014, but it is very much an active construction site as we speak.

That means that even the dancers don't know what the final space will be like on opening night – whether boards will be removed, windows will be opened, or walls will be built.

And there's a lot of debris to choreograph around.

But part of the point of this performance is how the dancers are able to process the transition of this space from its former lives into its future one, interacting with it during an indistinct intermediary stage of redevelopment.

They will be accompanied by Claire Gignac et compagnie from Montreal, their jazz performance of "The Beggar's Opera" filling the cavernous space regardless of where they end up setting up or how they, too, move through the space.

Of course, they are all rehearsing, so it won't be exactly an improvisational performance. But as they bridge the gap between the space's past and present identities, the performance must evolve as the building evolves, making a performance like this excitingly dangerous. It also makes it short-lived: Chinatown Blues only performs this Friday and Saturday.

View property details and historic photos here and here.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Linda Vista Hospital Comes Alive With "The Groundskeepers"
Photo Essay: The Neon of LA, and Its One Darkened Dragon
Photo Essay: Doheny's Other Mansion

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