Allison Wyper Previews this Year's Beach Dances
May 31, 2019
by Rebecca Tokofsky
Beach Dances presents a week of local choreographers conducting open rehearsals and offering free workshops and performances. We spoke with Beach Dances: Shared Practice guest curator Allison Wyper about her work and this year’s program, which takes place June 18-23, 2019 at the Annenberg Community Beach House.
Q: What is the significance of shared practice in your work? Of work experienced in public?
In all of my work—as a curator, performance maker, or facilitator of creative process—I take on projects that invite collaboration between artists, and an exchange between artists and spectators. I see the performance space, be it a theater, a park, or a gallery, as a potential site for community building and connection. I have been making performances in public and nontraditional spaces for my entire career. I rarely work in a proper theater. Partly, that began an economic decision: as an artist working with very little income, I couldn't afford to rent a theater. But I have also always looked for ways to mess with the typical stage setup, and placing performances in unexpected spaces where audiences might stumble upon a performance in progress, not sure where the performance begins and everyday life ends.
I am also very interested in the work of performance making. Often I find the rehearsal process more interesting than the final product. I love watching people work through creative problems, and make discoveries through improvisation or repetition. It’s just fun to watch people work who are good at what they do—construction workers, ceramicists, chefs…there’s a reason those cooking and home renovation shows are so popular on tv. I love hearing artists talk about how they work, what problems they are tackling, and what influences their decisions. I hope Beach Dances visitors enjoy peeking into process as much as I do.
Q: Beach Dances is out in the open, by the bike path, volleyball courts, the playground and café. How do you hope Beach House guests and passersby will engage with the Beach Dances artists?
I used to live within walking distance of the Santa Monica Beach, and one of the things I loved most about my beach walks was people watching. I love the idea that a family coming to swim and boogie board might encounter a Butoh rehearsal or a Flamenco class, and that those sights and sounds will become part of those family memories. They may find the dance strange or foreign, and it may spark their curiosity. They may be invited to take part, and suddenly this family is having an adventure they never could have planned. They’ve created a different relationship to the beach, and possibly to their own bodies…and might go home with a new sense of what is possible on any given day.
Allison Wyper and Sebastian Hernández in Encounter #37 at Human Resources, 2017. Photo by Erika Katrina Barbosa.
Q: While each of the workshops and performances are movement based, they occupy a wide range of dance practices. Could you talk about your process of curating such a diverse array?
My community in Los Angeles is extremely diverse, in terms of artistic discipline, nationality, culture, and aesthetics, which I absolutely treasure. And often, all of this diversity is present on one shared stage, or in one rehearsal room. Many of these artists are people I’ve worked with before, gone to school with, collaborated with on projects, and learned from. I am excited to center many artists of color as well as artistic practices that are not considered mainstream—that you will not see on a TV dance competition, for instance. Many spectators will have had zero exposure to Butoh dance, which came out of the Japanese postwar avant-garde and was influenced by German expressionism and counterculture movements of the 1960s. Few may know about the roots of New Orleans Bounce (aka “twerking”) as part of a feminine spiritual practice in communities of color in the American South.
Allison Wyper and participants at a Rhizomatic Studio Performance Lab at Pieter Performance Space, 2018. Photo by Jingqiu Guan.
These are some of the kinds of discoveries that audiences may make by witnessing the Beach Dances projects. Each and every one of the artists in our program has a strong, distinct point of view, and is deeply invested in the possibility that their work can impact others. They’re pushing the boundaries of genre and discipline, and many are rooted in bringing participants together for a collaborative exchange, whether those participants are dancers they have a history with, or strangers stepping into their practice for a couple of hours. They are also all responding to this site, specifically — creating a new work or adapting an existing practice to the possibilities of the Beach House and the people who visit and pass by it each day. Though it may seem like an eclectic assemblage of dance styles, I think visitors will find many points of connection between the works being shared in this year’s Beach Dances program.
A Rhizomatic Arts hangout in Boyle Heights. Photo by Rhizomatic Arts.
I created Rhizomatic Arts in 2014 as a container for the many ways that I support artists (from web design to curation to workshop facilitation) and to conceptualize that work as a creative social practice. At the heart of Rhizomatic Arts lies my one-on-one work with individual artists, and growing outward from that root is what we call the Sustainability Network, which invites artists, creatives, and cultural workers to come together in mutual support, rather than competition. At our hangouts and happy hours, we get to know one another and talk about our work, our needs, and our concerns over shared food and drink. These potluck-style events have been held in artists' homes, studios, and galleries. All artists and artist-allies are welcome to our Beach Hangout, where you can expect to meet interesting creative people in a casual, low-pressure environment. Since the conversation is premised on our needs (which might be anything from childcare, to leads on grants, people to hang out with, or the best place to get your work framed) and what we have to share, people have made new friends, found jobs, learned about resources that they hadn’t known about before, solved specific problems affecting their work, and laid the groundwork for future creative collaborations. It’s like networking but much more fun!
Check out the schedule for Beach Dances: Shared Practice and RSVP to the various events here.
Allison Wyper (Beach Dances Curator) is an interdisciplinary performance artist and founder of Rhizomatic Arts, which provides professional services, training, and community for independent artists and creatives. Rhizomatic Studio, the creative branch of Rhizomatic Arts, produces collaboratively-oriented performances and workshops in public and private spaces. In 2014-15, Allison curated multiple site-responsive public performances for Play the L.A. River, a year-long civic art project. She has performed, taught, produced, and facilitated workshops for artists on experimental performance, professional development, and collaborative interdisciplinary practices locally and internationally. She has an MFA in Dance from UCLA, and a BA in Theatre Studies from Emerson College.
http://rhizomaticarts.com | @RhizomaticArts | #RhizomaticStudio
Annenberg Community Beach House
The Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach is a public facility operated by the City of Santa Monica located on five acres of oceanfront property in Santa Monica. The Beach House story is one of evolution from private to public, starting with the development of the property at 415 Pacific Coast Highway as an opulent private estate of silent film star Marion Davies in the 1920s.
annenbergbeachhouse.com | @Annenbergbeachhouse | #SMBeachHouse
Santa Monica Cultural Affairs
Santa Monica Cultural Affairs brings the City’s art scene to life for residents and visitors by supporting engaging and accessible cultural events throughout the year. Cultural Affairs nurtures local arts organizations, promotes artist involvement in the community, manages the landmark Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and presents and produces innovative programs citywide at the Annenberg Community Beach House, the historic Miles Playhouse, Camera Obscura Art Lab and in the city’s parks, enriching Santa Monica’s reputation as an international cultural destination. santamonica.gov/arts | #ArtSaMo