October 30, 2016

A Dormant Chinatown Theatre Wakes Up to Dance

At one point, pretty much every neighborhood in LA had at least one movie theater. And, unlike now, every neighborhood wouldn't be showing the same movies.

If you wanted to see the latest releases in Hong Kong cinema—the kind of stuff that inspired Quentin Tarantino to make his Kill Bill series and shoot them in China—you had to go to Chinatown.

In the 1960s and 70s, there was the Cinemaland Theatre and the Kim Sing Theatre. The former is now used for garment manufacturing, and the latter now used as an event space.

But in the early 1960s, there was also the Sing Hing Theater, which hosted both Chinese-language films and Chinese Opera performances.

It's been dormant for 20 years. And that's almost as long as it operated.

In the early 2000s—around the time that Kill Bill was slashing its way through English-language cineplexes—there was talk of Tarantino buying the Sing Hing, which had come to be known as the "King Hing Theater."

It didn't happen. Tarantino bought the Beverly Cinema (which operates as the New Beverly Cinema) in 2007. So far, that's his only movie house (after his supposed interest in the Rialto in South Pasadena waned).

And so those 125,000 square feet of the King Hing Theater have remained dormant behind the marquee and blade sign, which have been hanging out front this whole time. That is—it's been dormant till now, now that it's been awakened with Heidi Duckler's production of "When I am King."

It's a dance performance designed entirely around the cinema's spaces, which include the terrazzo-floored outer lobby and tiled box office...

...and concession area...

...all the way up to the ceiling.

Like many of the Heidi Duckler productions, it's a roving dance performance—so you get to see many of the areas of the venue that you wouldn't normally encounter as an audience member of a film screening.

In the case of the King Hing Theater, you also get to see a more multimedia perspective of the public areas... an art installation that connects the projection booth to the stage like two ends of a loom.

The choreography of the ensemble-oriented finale takes place under the connecting strings (which appear almost like beams of light) and on top of mounds of dismantled theater seats.

But that would be considered "traditional" compared to the solo and duo performances in the rest of the theater...

...which is still a little rough around the edges...

...even though it's being promoted as having "reopened" as a private event and production space.

The film projectors are gone, which leaves ample room for a dancer to pop-and-lock his way through the booth.

And elsewhere upstairs, a video is projected on a white wall as the girl in the video climbs through a real-life window to interact with her screen-time self.

I find myself yearning for the experience of some of the past Heidi Duckler performances in other sites around LA—the Emser Tile building, the Dunbar Hotel, the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel (and Cocoanut Grove) and Perino's Restaurant—to which they surely won't return.

But these performances are always about the next thing, the next place, the next experience. And so I can't dwell on what I've missed out on (having not even been aware of the dance troupe before they took over the notoriously-haunted Linda Vista Hospital). I just have to look forward to whichever places lie ahead.

Related Posts:
A Matter of Place: Dancing Through Chinatown's Changes
Dancers Descend Upon the Semi-Vacant Crenshaw Hospital
Photo Essay: Linda Vista Hospital Comes Alive With "The Groundskeepers"
Last Night, At Church

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