Collage Dance Theatre

February 9, 2006

Left, Lou Becker in Heidi Duckler’s
C’opera. Right, Julie Shulman, Eva Wilder, and Drea Sobke.
Photo by Tim Agler, courtesy Collage Dance Theatre

Collage Dance Theatre
Los Angeles Police Academy, Los Angeles, CA

February 9–12, 16–19, 2006

Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf


Amid the din of choppers, bullets, and crunching gravel, quivering bodies fall to the sounds of a mournful bagpipe as a dazed-looking bride wails, her voluminous white dress in shreds. Welcome to C’opera, a fusion of movement and music that could only have been cooked up by Heidi Duckler, artistic director of L.A.-based Collage Dance Theatre, and her sister Merridawn Duckler, who wrote the libretto.

In more than two decades, Duckler’s site-specific works have included an abandoned jail, the halls of the recently demolished Ambassador Hotel, and now, the Los Angeles Police Academy, established in 1932 by L.A. cops as a (still operational) training facility.

Tapping a collective vein with her astute blending of irony and history, Duckler unlocks complex emotions through dance juxtaposed against surprising backdrops. This 75-minute work began in the gymnasium, where Chris Stanley cavorted with a heavy bag while two police training films were shown.

Singer Catherine Hay, clad in cop garb (costumes by Ryan Heffington), warbled to six recruits, demanding “full attention.” As the group drilled—ran, slipped, and rolled—a thug entered (actor Chad Amsel), taking Hay captive. Crooning the “Hostage Aria,” she pleaded for freedom and was finally released, albeit to chilling effect.

Serenity arrived with a trek through the watery rock garden: Carlos Rodriguez clung to a neo-stalactite in a potent solo; Nguyen Nguyen and Lou Becker flipped and flailed amid another boulder cluster; and Stanley preened in high heels on a stone ledge.

Next up, the coffee shop, where Lillian Bitkoff, Alison Mixon, and Julie Shulman bebopped to Hay’s blues riff (“Where is the man who can fill my shaker . . .”). But it was the firing-range finale that proved heart wrenching. Hay, now the bride and daughter of a fallen cop, sang (the stellar score was composed by Amy Knoles) as dancers crept in, targets popping up behind them. Slithering downward to the sounds of gunshot, these executed souls populated a tortured tableau.

We are all, it seems, doomed, as Duckler leaves us with the indelible imagery of a “to protect and to serve” world gone increasingly mad. See