Exploring LACDC’s New Home with the Creators of Terra

LACDC Terra

LACDC’s latest work, Terra, explores the concept of home as they build a creative community in their new space, Stomping Ground LA. Each collaborator brings their own unique experiences and understanding to this fresh take on interactive performance.

Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company is christening their new space, Stomping Ground LA, with Terra, an innovative work centered around the materials and relationships required to build a home- both physically and symbolically. In the spirit of fostering collaboration and creative growth, the company took on an interactive project that invites the audience to collaborate with them in real-time. The making of Terra also focused on a sense of community that celebrates intellectual and experiential diversity as well as creative autonomy.

What is home?

What is home? A place we inhabit? The people we rely upon? The effort we put into building one? The name of the piece, Terra, means land, territory, or Earth and while we do collectively call Earth our home the Earth is not in a fixed state. Things grow from the Earth and we build on Earth’s soil creating communities, neighborhoods, cities and societies. Terra focuses on the materials required to build a home. From the sticks and plants a bird uses to build its nest to the relationships we make that create a sense of home rather than a physical structure.

There are many ways to build a home. LACDC’s approach encouraged collaborators to bring their unique perspectives and fostered artistic autonomy while maintaining thematic and aesthetic cohesion. Like Earth, home is not stagnant. The building of home in Terra continues to change and grow as audience members affect each night’s outcome with their own decisions and interactions.

I had the honor of interviewing the collaborators to get their take on the process and the intentions that drove their choices. Each collaborator shared the unique perspective they brought to the world of Terra and how their work contributed to this ever-evolving home. Interviews have been lightly edited for context and clarity.

LACDC Terra
Co-Chorographers and Directors Genevieve Carson and Drea Sobke
Photo by Kat Westerman

Finding Our Place

As an audience member at Terra’s preview night, I entered the space like a child – with a sense of earnestness and contained excitement. The space was large, ominous, dimly lit and filled with fog and organic, ambient sounds that enveloped dancers who explored the space, seemingly for the first time themselves.

The dancers were dispersed throughout The Stomping Ground LA, either on their own, exploring the projections of birds and trees illuminating the pathways of fabric that hung from the ceiling; or in pairs, holding each other and muttering into each others’ ears. Sometimes they would happen upon one another and interact in a moment of tender curiosity or come close to audience members, inviting us to feel the freedom to explore more intimate proximities to the dancers and set pieces. This proximity was not only encouraged by the dancers but a key intent of the creators who put Terra together.

“We were excited by the idea of an audience member getting to see the dancers up close and observe details in their movement, their bodies, even in the costumes. This allowed us to play with subtleties in choreography and experiment with performance qualities.” Drea Sobke, Co-Director and Choreographer told me.

The subtleties in the set, costumes, and movement were delicate, drawing the audience in until we felt more at ease to make choices of our own – either getting closer to the work and performers or taking a seat further away to soak in the bigger picture.

Genevieve Carson, Artistic Director of LACDC and Co-Director and Choreographer of Terra, assured me that audience autonomy was a key element in the work, “We hope that audiences feel as though they have the freedom to take time with and explore proximity with imagery, choosing wide or close vantage points inside the space to gain different perspectives as the world shifts around them.”

Creating a World

The world created for Terra did indeed shift around us. Sometimes in almost unperceivable ways and other times with more dramatic reveals. These shifts over time mimicked the physical and relational changes we experience in everyday life: sometimes changes are results of our own actions, sometimes they are inevitable, and other times, if we look away for a moment, we may miss them only to notice long after the change occurred.

“It has been nice knowing that there are so many other elements – set design, live music, costume design, video design – that support and uplift the world of the piece.  The movement design does not always have to be at the forefront in order to carry the piece forward at all times, and that is freeing.” – Genevieve Carson

Imitating a truly organic environment, every piece of Terra evolved over time. Noticeable shifts included changes in projection, music, and performance quality. More subtle transformations occurred in the set and costuming. The creators of Terra’s world collaborated to ensure this evolution was seamless and the functions of the intermediary changes could be executed by the performers throughout the piece.

“I wanted to create something that the spectator could experience in ways that are more than visual, which dictated the materials chosen and how it operated.” Set designer Carlo Maghirang told me. “There are also elements of the space that are inspired by puppetry mechanics and object manipulation, something I only do when working with dancers. It provides an opportunity to have a conversation between the dancers’ bodies and the spaces they occupy.”

LACDC Terra
Set rendering provided by Carlo Maghirang

Audiences members also affected the configuration of Terra’s world.

“I worked hard to establish an atmosphere that was inviting, and that the audience would want to be a part of. It can sometimes be difficult for people who don’t want to be ‘on stage’ or ‘in the spotlight’ to feel welcomed, and we really wanted the whole community to be a part of this experience from the moment they walk in the door. Because of the nature of this piece, each performance night creates its own community in a sense because of the audience’s energy and presence. There is a balance between interaction and observation for the audience, and therefore each night is different.” Katelan Braymer, lighting designer.

“We wanted something that felt as though [the space] was ‘exhaling.’”

– Carlo Maghirang

Terra sought out to carve a groove in the inhabited space as well as the hearts and minds of the audience and artists that are part of each night’s ecosystem. The spontaneity of each performance was something every creator had to account for when designing their unique elements. As the creators assured me, each night would be different as the world adapts to the whims of the audience and the adjustments of the performers.

Building a Home

LACDC used the creation of Terra to make The Stomping Ground LA feel like home for them. And this idea of nest building informed every element of Terra effecting both the people who will inhabit this home (the dancers and audience) as well as the costumes, music, sets and projection.

As projectionist Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh told me, “I want to create something that could spark familiarities, also create comfort to the audiences since they will be interacting with the projection closely. My goal is to create a level of intimacy. While the projection subjects might come from our world and reality, by collaging and manipulating the videos, I also hope to create some magical moments that are transformative and unexpected.” Hsieh hopes audiences will take with them, “A piece of memory from the past or for the future.”

The projections in Terra exhibited various levels of home building with trees and birds, city blueprints and dancer portraits. This idea of nesting also came across in the set design. The band was surrounded by grass in the center of the room and dried flowers and other matter a bird might literally use for its nest hung from the ceiling around the band’s perimeter. Rob Amjarv, sound designer and composer, even came around with an electronic device in a small nest and allowed the audience to take some ownership in the soundscape.

The organic elements of the world gave a sense of universality around the idea of home. There is a specificity to the materials that place us within the senses through their connection to our memories and lived experiences. It’s a new way to experience the familiar.

“The team has been very interested in exploring the elements as a motif, so we have been exploring the use of organic materials to shape the world.” – Carlo Maghirang

“We approached the movement design from a deep conceptual perspective by researching themes of home, community, the elements of the natural world (our “mother”), and cycles of life in nature.” – Genevieve Carson

They also used elements of nostalgia to give Terra a personal sense of home as well.

From the costumes:

“The design is very tactile- including fabric manipulation techniques such as tucking and quilting and fabrics such as linen or cotton which supports the welcoming and nostalgic story line.” – Kelsey Vidic

LACDC Terra
Costume rendering provided by Kelsey Vidic; Costuming assisted by Daniel Miramontes 

To the movement:

“Genevieve and I built a section based purely on family portraits, both as a tangible item within a home but also with the notion of a family functioning as a home.  What makes a home, the building or the people inside it? With that, we then began to build homes with the dancer’s bodies, combining choreography and architecture as a means of building movement and designs.  In Terra, we see the dancers repeatedly build and then disassemble “houses”, until we finally build one to last.” – Drea Sobke

Making Relationships

We often don’t experience home as a fixed place. We “feel at home” with people and places that have a sense of personal history and longevity. Home is our past and our future. To gain this sense of home we must build relationships and memories that are nostalgic yet continually move forward. Home is a place we can grow with others and can change over time as we transform through our development.

The foundation of Terra required such relationships. The collaborators worked closely to provide the audience with a launchpad for their own growth within the piece. While each artist reigned over their specific domain, they had to account for how the pieces would fit together in the space.

“I am really grateful to Genevieve and Drea for their holistic approach in collaboration. They have encouraged a very transparent and emotionally driven communication style which has allowed me to explore ideas that can sometimes be outlandish or chaotic. The vision was driven by both the chaos of creating something new and the necessity to celebrate and care for the art that is yet to exist.” – Carlo Maghirang

Like each physical material of a house relying on the last to hold it up and make it whole, each design element required the others to support it.

“I worked closely with Carlo to create the best projection environment, that the projection surfaces are part of this magical world and are transformative for different purposes. Carlo is an amazing artist; we’ve worked together several times in the past. We speak the same language.” – Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh

“With the costume color palette including a wide range of colors, we had to stay in contact around color choices specifically. We also were in collaboration with the textile textures. We had to idea to bring in the fabric manipulation to the projection surfaces to tie that in with the costuming. [Hsuan-Kuang and Carlo] are such incredible professionals- we used our shared visual language to communicate in order to have a cohesive design.” – Kelsey Vidic

“Through production meetings early on, we talked a lot about imagery, color and atmosphere. I wanted to create an ambiance that supported the amazing visuals that Carlo and Hsuan were developing. We each brought our own vision to the piece, and at Tech is when the collaboration and everything really came together.” – Katelan Braymer

LACDC Terra
Photo by Kat Westerman

Ultimately, Terra is a good omen and initiation for LACDC’s new home at The Stomping Ground LA. The piece reflects their mission to create a space for artistic incubation and community building that the dance and arts community at large can rely on.

“Terra is a wonderful departure for us as a company at a very poignant moment for us in our history as an organization.  As we prepare to inhabit our new home, we enter into an invigorating collaborative process that allows for freedom of choice for performers and audience members, bringing new life and ideas into a space that will help artists thrive in their creations.” – Genevieve Carson

“The ephemeral nature of dance, being only a moment in time, translates into our relationship with our studio spaces.  Here in LA, wonderful studios are being lost to redevelopments and increased rent.  As an artist, it can be difficult to establish a creative home that one can rely on being there decades later. The Stomping Ground is a purchased land, it has a permanency about it that is rare in our community.  The Stomping Ground will be a new home for dance in LA, where dancers and dance makers can set up shop and have the warm embrace we all need.” – Drea Sobke

See Terra

Terra has three more showings. Don’t miss your chance to bring your own perspective to this interactive work and join LACDC in celebrating their new home. Get your tickets here!

More LACDC sightings

Want to see what else LACDC has in store in the coming months?

You can see their upcoming performances for the LMU Children’s Concert and Odyssey Festival. Plus, dancers can join LACDC Artistic Director Genevieve Carson, Genna Moroni, Jessie Lee Thorne and Company Members for advanced classes in contemporary modern technique, phrasework, and choreography workshops at their Winter Intensive! Make sure to follow them on Instagram @LAContemporaryDance to get all the real-time updates.

If you’re a choreographer, writer, filmmaker, or artist of any medium interested in discussing an upcoming project or aspect of your creative process for my blog, please reach out to me at curiosities@katherinegracemurphy.com.

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