by Brian Sonia-Wallace
Heidi Duckler Dance is known for staging dance in unusual places and their show at the Ford is no exception. “In my first conversation with the Ford, they said, ‘I assume you’re not interested in the stage,’” choreographer Heidi Duckler laughs as she tells me. The space she settled on? The loading dock. “We had to carve out time for rehearsals because the space is in constant use!” Duckler says.
This will be Duckler’s first show at the Ford since 1993, when she brought three dance companies together to dance on a huge moveable set. This time around, the experience will be intimate, with an audience of no more than 130 literally “loaded in together” on the loading dock itself. Heidi Duckler and her dancers will be exploring themes of borders and walls as they dance around the imposing loading dock door, a barrier which is slatted so the whole space transforms with light as the sun sets behind it. “No one has used this space like this before,” Duckler tells me excitedly.
But, though this will be the Ford loading dock’s inaugural performance, it is not Duckler’s first time choreographing in this kind of space. “I actually made a performance in a loading dock when we were touring in Russia,” she says, and tells me one of the best behind-the-scenes stories I’ve ever heard:
“We were actually supposed to be in the lobby,” she tells me, “but it was this ancient, historic building and they vetoed everything we wanted to do, everywhere we wanted the dancers to dance. So I went outside around the corner to a loading dock out of everyone’s sight, and choreographed the piece there!” Unsurprisingly, the dance ended up being about access and entry points.
“And then,” Duckler goes on, “it started to pour rain. I was worried no one would show up, but hundreds of Russians came to watch, all carrying umbrellas. And, to top it off, a local news crew drives up right into the middle of the show, shining huge lights and live broadcasting in Russian, which meant we had no idea what they were saying.”
“Talk about displacement!”
While the show at the Ford may not have quite such a dramatic backstory, the themes of what it means to exist in space necessarily preoccupy much of Duckler’s work, as dancers re-contextualize everyday sites as stages for performance. “It’s about navigating space,” Duckler tells me, “every site is a new problem I love to solve. After 33 years doing this, it’s still fresh every time.”
What Duckler has seen recently is a transition in the work her company is doing beyond site-specific pieces, which she says has become a tired cliché, to what I would call community-specific work. It’s still based in unusual places physically, but the work itself is more content driven, as the company begins long-term collaborations with partners ranging from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital campus to the Encino women’s prison. “It’s not just about transforming spaces,” Duckler says, “but thinking about community ownership and healing.” The power of the arts, in these unusual spaces, becomes a process of making invisible stories visible.
As for the show at the Ford, Duckler is bringing the audience into the dialogue on Sunday with a post-performance discussion exploring perspectives on barriers and movement across borders. The relevance of this work to the current National debate seems obvious, a provocation to have these conversations and connect with human stories anywhere and everywhere…even in the loading dock of the Ford.
Heidi Duckler Dance performs in the Ford's loading dock on Saturday, October 27 and Sunday, October 28 at 5:30 PM. For tickets and info, click here.