Experimental Dance by the Los Angeles River

Join Play the LA River to explore, enjoy, reclaim, and reimagine the river as a grand civic space that can green and connect our communities.

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Harriet Bailey run “Guided Viewing Dance” with her four dancers | Photo: Carren Jao

With no shade in sight, surrounded by a sea of cemented roads and industrial buildings, Laura Berg, Lindsey Lollie, Jordan Saenz, and Gracie Whyte began a rhythmic movement set to an unheard music.

Together, they cling to the green fences that separated the Ed P. Reyes Greenway from Avenue 19; they climb and vault off the short silver poles that lined the fence; and they run to and fro, constantly changing directions like billiard balls after a break shot.

“It’s a piece on decision making,” explains choreographer Harriet Bailey, just after her rehearsals finished at the greenway. “It’s based on my own indecisiveness and references a lot of things like flipping a coin or changes of direction.” A graduate of London Contemporary Dance School, Bailey is one of the many dancers showing work by the Los Angeles River Sunday, October 26, 2014 from 3 to 6 pm at the silver of green space in Lincoln Heights dubbed the Ed Reyes Greenway under the umbrella of Pieter, co-curated by Jmy of James Kidd Studio and Allison Wyper of Project 51’s Play the LA River.

Alexx Shilling teaches Gwynn Shanks and Devika Wikremesinghe her piece, "The Other Side of Stillness" | Photo: Carren Jao

Alexx Shilling teaches Gwynn Shanks and Devika Wikremesinghe her piece, “The Other Side of Stillness” | Photo: Carren Jao

The 3-hour interactive dance exhibitions are part of Play the Los Angeles River’s yearlong series of riverside collaborations.

Self-described as a “studio and performance laboratory for wild and rigorous experimentation in dance,” Pieter is understandably difficult to gift-wrap with a neat bow.

Pieter is most easily understood as a place. It is tucked in an anonymous industrial building just past the railroad tracks in the confines of Lincoln Heights. No sign outside proclaims its existence. Only those in the know would dare enter the building’s intimidating factory-like environs.

Pieter is also a magnet for experimental dancers working in Los Angeles. “Pieter is the public part of my studio,” explains Jmy (pronounced “Jimmy”) James Kidd as we sat in her studio’s break room-kitchen-laundry room. “I wanted it to be something community oriented and beneficial to the dance community.” Dancers can rent the space at a reasonable rate or enroll in Pieter’s esoteric classes.

The studio is home to classes skewed toward specialized movement such as: capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines dance and acrobatics taught by Angoleiros Los Angeles; improvisation taught by Simone Forti, recipient of a Yoko Ono Lennon Award for Courage in the Arts; or a natural re-alignment practice called the Skinner Releasing Technique taught by Laurel Tentindo.

One of its favored classes is on something called somatic movement taught by Nick Duran. Duran has since replaced that class with another equally opaquely termed class called “new modern”. Like a juicy rumor, word of Pieter’s classes is passed on from one dancer to another, which is how Bailey found the studio as a newcomer to Los Angeles. Pieter is no regular studio geared for the suburban family. It is a laboratory for movement with class descriptions that seem to stray into the mystic. Here’s a sampling of the studio’s esoteric descriptions:

  • This is not about mastery or self-flagellation, but about letting the body think, solve problems, and enjoy itself.
  • We will begin with a long form contemplative movement warm up and then proceed with the mechanics of the psychophysical containers.
  • In this class, we will seek technique that is useful and freeing. Central to this query is bodily knowing from the inside out.

It may sound like jargon to the regular ear, but for a dancer whose body is his instrument, these string of words kindle a flame of recognition, just as Kidd has envisioned. She explains, “There’s not a lot of infrastructure for experimental dance in Los Angeles.” Kidd hopes Pieter will be the groundwork others can build upon. Apart from classes and workshops, Kidd opens the floor up to dancers at the end of each class. Kidd allows dancers to open up and “talk about their needs, their projects, or anything that interests them” in a real-world Craigslist sort of way. Disclosure such as this creates bonds among almost strangers sharing a space, which Kidd hopes can someday blossom into something more.

A trained dancer who grew up in San Francisco and trained in New York City, Kidd says she has long been drawn to this state. “California totally called to me,” says Kidd, “I love the light here and I think sunshine is so medicinal.” When she gathered enough courage to start a studio five years ago, it was easy to move to Los Angeles, despite knowing no one and nothing about the land of sunshine.

Much like Pieter, Kidd is also difficult to pin down. As a dancer, she has gone by pseudonyms such as Jean-Marie Dauray Leary, Jmy Leary, Beatrice Wong, Penelope Margolis, and James Kidd. Her persona changing with each performance. “I would make up a name for every dance I participated in,” says Kidd, “I didn’t want my name to belong to single dance company.”

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Alexx Shilling teaches two dancers her “2hr Performance” | Photo: Carren Jao

Only when she moved to Los Angeles did she finally own Jmy James Kidd legally, as if finally laying claim to herself and her direction. Now, Kidd doesn’t dance for people anymore, yet still refers to herself as a “dance person.” Instead, she’s now a designer — of community spaces, dances, and clothing, among others. Much like her concept for Pieter, Kidd’s definition for herself is similarly wide-ranging.

On Sunday, Kidd is responsible for “scoring” the three-hour performance, ensuring that each performance gets its due. On the day, every corner of the Ed Reyes Greenway, all the way up to Elysian Park will come alive with movement from experimental dance, yoga, Butoh (a type of Japanese dance theater), and even a two-hour dance of endurance choreographed by Alexx Shilling. Like a maestro, timing music’s ebb and flow, so Kidd does with the performances of the day, leaving the audience to wander in and out of many dance worlds, all unfolding by the Los Angeles River. “Pieter Plays the River” will be presented on October 26, from 3-6 pm at the Ed Reyes Greenway on North Avenue 19 and Humboldt Street. More details here.

This article originally appeared at KCET Artbound and was written by Carren Jao.

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