In 2018. Heidi Duckler Dance (HDD), received the distinction of becoming the first L.A. dance company to be awarded an NEA Our Town grant towards the development and implementation of MoveWell@MLK, a two-year creative place-keeping project that is taking place on the Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital Campus in Willowbrook, CA. This project will continue through 2021 thanks to the support of the California Arts Council.
Heidi Duckler Dance is one of 40 grantees chosen for their Creative California Communities program and will continue the partnership with the office of LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and other local community-based organizations to expand MoveWell@MLK to public spaces in and around the MLK Medical Campus.
On Saturday, August 24th HDD and MLK Jr. Outpatient Center will host Stay Awake. This event which will be free to the community is a cross-disciplinary work created on site at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital. Heidi Duckler, who both choreographed and directed this performance, is inspired by the ecosystems of the new hospital and explores how human interactions influence our health and our community.
Stay Awake features HDD company dancers Raymond Ejiorfor, Tess Hewlett, Lenin Fernandez, Roberto Lambaren, Lily Ontiveros, Ryan Walker Page, Rafael Quintas, Jasmine Rafael, Alyse Rockett, Carissa Songhorian, Himerria Wortham, and Luke Zender.
Not only is the performance created especially for MLK but the show will feature special music performances by NewYork-based experimental percussionist and composer, Jessie Cox who will perform an original composition written for this premiere and Large Shiva, a Los Angeles-based improvisational orchestra directed by Justin Bardales, will also perform live for this new work.
The Sentinel had the opportunity to discuss this inspiring and community driven performance with several of the dancers who will perform this weekend to get their thoughts on this ground breaking performance
Tell us about your experience working at the Martin Luther King Hospital?
Himerria Wortham: From the day we first arrived to shoot our promo photos, I could tell this was a special location. Rarely do you see a hospital with so much light and such beautiful architectural lines. I was immediately taken by the opportunities that the building offered for movement exploration. Now that we have been creating in the parking lot premises for the past few days, I have an even better idea of the calm energy of the hospital (with the exception of the occasional serenading visitor, our experience creating in this space has been both inspiring and peaceful.
Lily Ontiveros: I have been rehearsing at Martin Luther King Hospital for Stay Awake and have also had the opportunity to listen to the stories of the clients at the Recuperative Care Center, which has given me a clearer sense of the work and community around the hospital. Rehearsing on site at the lawn has been a great experience. There is so much to explore choreographically and thematically and we’ve found very creative ways to transform the space and tell a story of community and the individual’s transformation within it. Working with 11 other dancers with such diverse backgrounds has been very inspiring and has enriched the work tremendously.
Jessica Evans: We have been working with the Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital over the past year. As the education & engagement director I have had the opportunity along with Heidi and the staff to engage with the different facilities on campus. We’ve been about to provide education and rehabilitation services utilizing dance to King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Sciences, clients at the Recuperative Care Center, seniors at the new Gateway at Willowbrook and now the community as a whole with our Stay Awake project.
How can dance change neighborhoods?
Jasmine Rafael: Dance unifies people, it brings us to a similar place of joy and erases differences.
Himerria Wortham: I think dance can create awareness to a space/neighborhood that is normally overlooked or taken for granted. Pedestrians and audiences are given the chance to slow down and see their surrounding in another light as well as interact with a community they may not have come in contact with. Personally, dance has allowed me to discover neighborhoods that I may never have come in contact with on my own.
Lily Ontiveros: HDD’s work can change neighborhoods in that it transforms your view of a space. We perform in spaces that the audience might not think to look at twice. Especially in such a digital era, it is sometimes hard to look up, be present, and acknowledge our surroundings. Attending an HDD performance changes that, you realize that we have so much to be grateful for, that every space is worth exploring and you don’t need much to create something beautiful.
Tell us about the partnership between Heidi Duckler Dance and Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas.
Jasmine Rafael: Personally I am moved by the partnership between Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Heidi Duckler Dance. It’s great to see these two people work together to bring more attention to different areas of the city is so important.
Jessica Evans: Heidi Duckler Dance and Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas have collaborated on many projects throughout the years. With our two year Move Well @ MLK, we have assisted in providing visibility in the community by activating the new infrastructures being built. This allows residence to take advantage of the resources developing in their neighborhood. This intent goes hand-in-hand with the Supervisors passion for ending homelessness and providing support for more public health assistance.
What is your personal story?
Himerria Wortham: I’m a creative, from Berlin, who has lived in Los Angeles for ten years working as a dancer and choreographer. I’ve been happily performing with the Heidi Duckler family for over two years now, discovering one beautiful location and it’s community at a time through dance.
Jasmine Rafael: Dance saved me from my own head! Mental wellness is something I struggled with from an early age, dance has physically, emotionally, and mentally balanced me out, and continues to. Working with Heidi is a true dream, I inquired with the company years ago about working with them, and now I get to dance with them for causes bigger than myself. It’s incredible and I hope to only spread that fortune with giving back, and I thank Heidi for allowing me to do so through the work of the company.
Lily Ontiveros: I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico where I trained as a dancer and came to the U.S. to go to Chapman University in Orange County. I graduated in 2017 with a BFA in Dance Performance, moved to Los Angeles, and have been pursuing a dance career ever since. I have had the privilege to discover Los Angeles through the company’s eyes for a couple of years, which has allowed me to stay in the U.S. and keep reaching for my goals. I eventually want to give back to my community in Mexico and be an example that you can achieve anything you put your mind to no matter where you’re from.
Jessica Evans: I’ve always had a passion for giving back. I grew up with my elder sister, we struggled with poverty, finances and raising my nieces and nephews. Even though things were tough, I would take them to see theatre, truck shows or whatever I could to give them exposure to what was out in the world beyond playing at the park, being home and going to school. I’ve always had a passion to provide an outlet for communities and individuals who feel they don’t have the financial means or resources to provide a positive outlet. I am more than grateful to have the opportunity to build and grow with the Willowbrook community and have the opportunity to experience the community and all its richness.
Showtime for Stay Awake is
Sat, August 24, 2019
7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital
1680 East 120th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90059