Rebecca Bruno grew up within a home where her father presented chamber jazz concerts, so that in turn, after encountering a perceived limitation of resources for showing work in Los Angeles, she took matters into her own hands and momentarily converted her home into a space to make and present performance. From its inception two years ago, homeLA has become a hotbed of collaboration, a platform for dancers and architects, visual artists and performers, musicians and video artists. Each event takes place on site at the home of a participating host, highlighting the distinct and diverse architecture in Los Angeles, a city of homes, as well as providing dance artists with a space to experiment and show work within an intimate, personal, and distinct space. After following Rebecca's project for these past years, I anticipated our conversation, as her project also traverses my own interests in dance's fertile relation to domestic space, affective labor, and singular architectures. What follows is our first exchange on her project and process, and the reveal of uncanny experience.
- Biba Bell
March 27, 2015
[This call is now being recorded]
Biba Bell: Okay, it’s being recorded.
Rebecca Bruno: I know, it sounds successful.
Biba: Yeah, did you hear that?
Rebecca: Yeah I heard it.
Biba: Awesome. Okay, great. I’d really love to hear about the inception of homeLA—how long you were working on it before you had your first event, what it was, and how long its been going for.
Rebecca: Yeah, sure. How long I’ve been working on it before the first event... Well, I went to UC San Diego for undergrad and was in the dance department there. Upon graduating in 2008 I wanted to continue making work but, you know, that school is so well resourced in terms of their theater facilities because the masters theater program is one of the top in the nation. So, they’ve got amazing resources and I had had the opportunity to produce my own shows and collaborate with some of the designers in the masters program. Upon leaving the school I think I was shocked at the lack of resources at my disposal. I organized a small group of friends who were also dance artists to make work inside of my home. I was living with a few roommates and we removed all the furniture from inside of the house and placed it on the driveway and sidewalk and opened the entire house. This was a small three-bedroom bungalow with college students and…yeah that’s probably the beginning of trying to dance at home.
Biba: This movement movement is super interesting, this response to a kind of exclusivity or difficulty in entering the theatrical house (so to speak). And then, as far as a response, very literally bringing it right into the…turning the home into that theater. I love that sort of juxtaposition... or the response of that action. I mean, I’m calling you from Detroit, which is also a city of homes. Especially when thinking about the space of the home within the urban environment. So, from that moment of it being more experimental—“okay we can make work and perform it in the home, we can use it as rehearsal space…”—when do you start to shift it into something more produced, the vision of it is specific and directive and I’m interested in that and how it crystallized for you.
Rebecca: I agree. The reaction was very direct—the lack of resources, the home, pretty “one-two-three”—but, that said, my dad (who is an electrical engineer) has been producing jazz concerts in our living room since 1992. They’re traditional, in a sense, my mom and dad set up rows of seating in the living room, and there’s an hour set of music and then a potluck dinner and then an hour set of music. They invite one artist, generally, or a band. I definitely think that having the experience of seeing so many different people in my house at once, around a concert, in a concert setting, was super inspiring, you know? Seeing my friends parents and our neighbors and my dad’s colleagues and my mom’s colleagues and her friends, just this really interesting mix of people who 1) probably would not find themselves at a jazz concert in the first place, and 2) wouldn’t find themselves together in a home or otherwise, likely, aside from this larger-scale home event. So, I’m pretty sure that’s part of the inspiration. But anyway, but back to...
Biba: That’s so funny, I can relate with that because my mother is a classical pianist chamber musician, and I also grew up with those concerts. And still whenever I go home that’s really what’s happening. That’s neat because you’re having people that are familiar with the space, familiar with your family and being exposed to a performance that they wouldn’t necessarily seek out otherwise, going to a venue. Then, at the same time, the kind of personability of the public entering a space like that and then amping up the social element of performance.
Rebecca: Definitely the social element… The more and more we do these events, the more it’s an element of, sculpting isn’t the right word, engaging or giving attention to the social activity within the event. It happens quite naturally in opening the house, in opening a door to a house and allowing people in and there being couches and a familiar sense of the kitchen’s here, the backyard’s here. Well, that’s Los Angeles, but I think that’s certainly a huge interest of mine, that familiarity. Sometimes I think it expresses itself in discomfort, too. We’ve been in really expansive homes and also not so expansive homes, and I think that people’s reactions can be quite different depending on where we are in the city and whose home are we in. Actually, I’m reminded of, do you know Mark Allen of Machine Project? Machine Project in Los Angeles... They do quite a lot of programming. He describes being inspired by garage rock concerts he went to as a kid.
Biba: Nice! Yes, the garage thing... I can get with that.
Rebecca: Oh yeah! You can totally get with that.
Biba: My history with Modern Garage Movement, which was also partially inspired by that. Yes, absolutely.
Rebecca: Yes, that and music. I mean, definitely it’s something that happens a lot and in different musical genres—the living room concert, or the garage concert.
Biba: It harkens to the salon, a history of salon concerts. Yes, the salon, which can be concerts, can be talks, can be seminars, etc., and to have dance happening within that frame as well. Can you describe what a typical event is like? You travel to different homes, how many people do you normally bring into the evening of performance? How many artists? How do you do it? What does this look like?
Rebecca: Great question, I’m learning about the answers to those questions as I go, but I’d say I got to Los Angeles and realized quickly that the project would be possible because it’s such a home-city, a home/house-based city. But, I finally got out of the zone of “it’s got to be my house” and opened to the possibility that maybe other people would be interested. I’ve been incredibly surprised at the fact that I continue to get requests by people who now want to do the event in their homes. So really, each event, aside from the first one, for which I sent an invitation call for hosts, we’ve been going from one request to the next. And we’re new, I still feel like we’re quite young. I think it’s been almost two years and we’re going to our eighth event next week.
Jeremy Hahn and Michelle Star LaVon at homeLA // Highland Park, photo Andrew Mandinach
The process is something like this: a huge part of it is building a relationship to the hosts, and their relationship to the space, which is hugely different each time. So, some people have said, “do whatever the hell you want, there’s a key outside, just come.” That’s super rare; that happened once... and we had fire dancers on the roof in Highland Park! The hosts were very open. We also had a performance at sunrise and at sunset, and were there all day with community crafting workshops like indigo dying and salon parlor games in the living room. But, generally, I agree on a rehearsal schedule with the host. My preference is that we work something like two to three months, and we’re experimenting with that format a little bit now. We have a pop-up like performance in Claremont next month in which each of the artists has had one rehearsal in the space and we’ll meet once prior to the event. It’s a smaller scale performance of only 40 guests and we’ve seen generally around 200 people per event. That’s been another challenge: how to maintain the quality and energy of each of the works not only as singular works but also together and in the space and in this certain format that will allow for the number of people that are interested in attending.
Biba: If people are working within the space, two to three months, and have a rehearsal schedules there are they really able to make work that’s tailored to or made specifically for these spaces in the house? Is that generally what happens?
Rebecca: Yes, that’s generally what happens and what I ask artists to do—to make work in response to the space, the character of the home, what they respond to in the space. For the last few events I have also started to ask more specific questions to the artists and give more specific ideas. For instance, one of the next homes we’ll be in is the J.B. Merrill House built in 1908 as a church by H.M. Patterson for the reverend J.B. Merrill at that time and it functioned as the spiritual center for eight or nine years and then over the next few decades deteriorated to some extent. For the last 20 years it has been owned by the couple who is there now and is hosting this event on May 3rd. We're looking at ideas to do with devotion and preservation, I can say briefly in the short process that we’ve had so far one artist, Victoria Marks, is making work in response to the positioning of one of the host’s paintings and the pipe organ which was originally installed in the house and used in church services. One of the owners, Gwen Freeman, is a painter and she has quite a lot of paintings around the house. Victoria was initially attracted to a small round table on a balcony that overlooks the living room and soon began working in response to one of Gwen’s earliest paintings of her family that hangs above the table. The painting depicts members of Gwen’s family sitting around a small table, their arms long and extending in circular patterns. Dancers Willy Souly and Alexx Shilling are taking inspiration from the bodily representations in Gwen’s painting and from what I’ve heard in rehearsal, Victoria is experimenting with pipe organ sound. Artists have responded in so many different ways. Generally, new work and very rarely site-adaptive works are made for homeLA. Lionel Popkin presented a solo “Headstrong” performed by Samantha Mohr at homeLA // San Marino which was originally choreographed in 2008 within the context of a larger piece, “There is an elephant in this dance.”
Biba: There was an elephant in the dance?
Rebecca: That’s the name of the piece.
Biba: Oh, okay.
Rebecca: “There is an elephant in this dance” is a solo. (More laughter) Fire dancers and elephants…not the project I thought you were talking about…
Biba: Wait, there’s an elephant in the room? There’s an elephant in the… Oh. Okay.
Rebecca: So, he extracted that solo and the solo has to do with the embodiment of an elephant trunk. It’s as if there was an elephant’s trunk living in the dancer’s spine. That was performed in a San Marino home in a very specific area at the top of a staircase where guests could only view it from the stairs or from the hallway below, so the work, the space, and viewers had this very interesting encounter.
Biba: I'm remembering some photos I saw of one of the earlier events. I know Flora Wiegmann and I think that she was performing in it and it was one of these quintessential Los Angeles, in-the-hills, modern, glass, multi-level kind of amazing homes. Los Angeles is definitely a culture of architecture and really that could go in a lot of different directions—whether you like it or you hate it. In terms of the popularity of the events, for the people that are inviting you to come and use their homes, is this a way to highlight these spaces too? The range? Is that something that you’ve noticed? That that’s also part of the draw—it’s about highlighting architecture, specific architectures in Los Angeles?
Flora Wiegman at homeLA // Mount Washington, photo: Andrew Mandinach
Rebecca: Is that a part of our draw from the project’s perspectives?
Biba: Well, maybe from yours but more in terms of thinking about the popularity of the people desiring to host them.
Rebecca: Yeah, I think yes. I think there’s been a range of reasons or points of desire for wanting to host an event like this. Highlighting architecture, social or artistic curiosity, and/or a commitment to supporting artists are just a few. The home that you mentioned is owned by Chloë Flores and Tim Lefevre. Tim built the house himself and has this very poetic relationship to the way the house relates to its natural surroundings. He designed the home in order for this natural breeze from the valley to flow up through the entire house. While we were there the home was actually unfinished and the pool Tim had designed had been empty for years. Flora captured this moment in time by installing fluorescent lights inside of the pool and ‘Swimming Laps’ around the edge of it, dealing with its emptiness and framing her movement in a way that highlighted the architecture and also the transitional parts of the home. But, each home is very different. They also, the couple who lives here, opens their home to visiting artists and run an artist residency, GuestHaus Residency. They also have a familiarity with the public in their private space, which is very different from many of our hosts. The second home we were in, in the Palisades is a renovated bungalow, ‘40s bungalow, lived in by an interior designer and a cinematographer who have directed the object design and the lighting in very specific ways. They put so much attention and energy into the design of their private space I imagine it was very exciting to have so many people around to appreciate it, and to experience it in surprising ways with performance in relationship to it. But… I think…
Biba: I think about home tours. There’s a neighborhood in Detroit—Indian Village. It was the old neighborhood with all the mansions, what would have been where the CEOs used to live. The neighborhood association plans tours once a year. It bring up this question of access to these kinds of architectures, of looking at them and seeing them from the inside. You also brought up the way in which one of the hosts was like, “Okay, there are the keys outside. Do whatever you want”—this question of how homes are lived in which is also so different and personal. To have this window into this very intimate space, which… well, I think about spending years living in New York and it's striking to me, even now, going into someone’s home because it’s a very specific thing if you actually do go into somebody’s home or apartment.
Rebecca: If you make it into a house.
Biba: Exactly. If you make it into it, you make it into the inner sanctum. Do people take their things and put them in a closet or is there a staging of the house that happens? What are the versions of the ways people negotiate that?
Rebecca: Absolutely. We try to treat each home similarly, in the sense that we try to do very minimal adjustments to the home, décor, or orientation. Sometimes furniture has been moved, like a couch was flipped on its side to make space for Jennie Liu’s performance in Highland Park, but we generally work with the home in its current state and the relationship of these homeowners to their spaces has been so vastly different each of the events is certainly framed by it or influenced by it. So much so that the events are reflecting some of that, you know? We come in, are in relationship to this home, these people, their things, their private rooms, their bathrooms, their schedules, where they like to hang out, where they feel comfortable, everything. We’re in relationship to that, and playing with it and jostling it a little bit. When the events are done well there are these very interesting reflections of the hosts and their homes within the new works made by a particular group of dance artists (and often also visual artists, architects, and sound artists).
Biba: So, how is it for the artists? Does the specificity of that process—thinking about the home you mentioned had been designed so that the air flows up and relates to the vernacular of the space, but then also the habits and pathways and rhythms that become accumulated within the house—the day-to-day, year after year, the somatic or intuitive response to that—does that start to emerge for the artists at all?
Rebecca: I have a hope that that does throughout our process. I think that time is one of the most important elements guiding or allowing this to happen, creating the potential for this to happen—the more time we spend in the space and also how present the host chooses to be while we’re in process. When we were in an artist’s work-live space at The Brewery, downtown, every artist responded directly to this artist’s work and her living patterns in her space. It was also the smallest space we’ve ever been in. The works ended up having this very sequential feel to them and the show itself became a kind of whole that was really, really held by and infused with this artist’s presence in rehearsal, her writing and her work with color. She had a lot of interaction with each of the artists and was present during most rehearsals. Some hosts have a tendency to step out and hang out in the kitchen or some unused space while we’re in rehearsal. It’s a gentle conversation of how much the host wants to be involved and our encouragement or engagement with them. We were in San Marino and both hosts and their kid performed, each of them in a different piece. Brian Felsen, he’s 45 and has never really danced, and Elif Savas Felsen, an opera singer amonst many other amazing things, they are both very creative and excited by experimental performance. Elif sang in the work of Andrew Lush and Anatol, Brian and Elif’s son, performed in the work of Grand Lady Dance House (Jennie Liu and Andrew Gilbert). Brian really wanted to have the experience of dancing. So he spent three days a week for three months in rehearsal with the choreographer Lindsey Lollie. They performed her work ‘The Takers’ with Harriet Bailey in the kitchen, and they’re adapting it now for a stage show at the Los Angeles Dance Festival in April.
Biba: Moving it into a theater?
Rebecca: They’ll be moving it into a theater.
Biba: How does that work? I suppose I should ask the artist.
Rebecca: Yeah, I don’t know yet.
Biba: Is that very common? Does that happen, that people will bring the work…
Rebecca: I’ve seen…yes, I’ve seen that some artists that started a new idea within homeLA either expand upon it or adapt it to the theater, or to other parts of their practice further down the line.
Biba: Would the home necessarily follow as part of the content of the work? Or does it remain sort of an invisible context from which it sprouted?
Rebecca: That’s a great question and I haven’t seen enough examples to know. Lindsey’s work could potentially be an example of the home coming into the theater adaptation. The architecture of the kitchen and their ability to cook eggs there was very important to the way they were moving.
Lindsey Lollie in rehearsal for homeLA // San Marino, photo Andrew Mandinach
Biba: Do you perform in the events? Have you made work, or are you mainly acting as the facilitator and curator?
Rebecca: I mainly act as the facilitator. I have made work twice. I think generally it’s something that I’d like to do every now and again because I also sometimes have very strong creative impulses or interests in certain areas of a home. I had a very direct response to the sand filled pool at the San Marino home event, and I made a small study in response to that. That’s continuing through my process outside of homeLA and is really rooted in that strange temporary architecture of this large pool full of sand.
Biba: Full of sand?
Rebecca: Yeah, filled with sand.
Biba: Why, why filled with sand?
Rebecca: Well, the hosts of that event are renters, so, my understanding is that the home is likely an investment home in San Marino, and could potentially at some point be completely redone. In the meantime, there are no pool expenses.
Biba: That’s funny. Is that a regular thing for people in Los Angeles to fill their pools with sand?
Rebecca: I think it’s a solution to a few things… they have a little garden growing at the end.
Biba: Oh nice. Well how is it in terms of a larger—because I’m not super familiar with the Los Angeles contemporary dance context or performance context… a little bit, I’ve spent some time there but I’m not around too frequently—I’m curious as to how this provides an important avenue for people to develop new ideas in these singular spaces but then also how is it in conversation with the larger contemporary dance and performance context.
Rebecca: That’s a great question. Well, Los Angeles is a really funny place, as you probably know, for dance.
Biba: I’ve heard it’s been changing a lot in the last ten years.
Rebecca: Yeah, it does have this sense that you can get lost in any number of dance scenes here. Beyond the kind of commercial dance scene, there are a large number of contemporary dance companies making work and supporting each other’s work and then there is this perhaps smaller experimental dance community. I feel that we’re pretty outside of the company model and more interested in, perhaps more involved in, where visual arts and dance are overlapping right now. We’re engaging artists from various dance communities in the city and also artists working in video, sound, light, other media. From time to time I see that people within the context of homeLA are creating connections. For instance,an architect and a dancer, or Michelle, the visual artist who hosted an event and a dancer, Ariana Daub, are working on a dance film, or people who make work in homeLA and then present a developed version in a REDCAT Theater Festival. homeLA, aside from being a production or a performance event, it’s also a lab space or experimental space for artists to take risks, try something different or exciting to them and connect with other artists.
Biba: In your conversations with people who’ve made work in homeLA, is that something that comes up? In terms of working in these spaces and orienting the work, towards or with them? I’m imagining unexpected things could emerge. For instance, if one is used to making work for a gallery context or a theater context and then shifting that, is that something that people have discussed with you? “Oh wow, I would have never made something like this otherwise.”?
Rebecca: Yeah, I think that happens pretty often, also the nature of the process in giving artists a few months to develop work before we put a format on the event helps. Before we say, “the shows are at 3, 5, 7pm” or, “the shows are all day long.” The project tries to be very generous to the process portion, to create, to allow for something unexpected or some surprise or discovery. And I think we try also to have multiple performances so that the work stays alive within the course of the event. Also having a flow of public witnesses close to your work who may present unexpected reactions, perhaps based on the ambiguity of the relationship between the performance and the audience sometimes—“Where are we supposed to go?” Sometimes something unexpected about the work emerges from that as well.
Biba: With the audience? Yes. In general, how do you set up the space for the audience? You mentioned that you don’t like to change the space.
Rebecca: We generally don’t change it, there’s only one home in which we set up a few lines of chairs because the chairs existed in the space and it was this artists’ work/live space and it’s basically one big room. But we practice a combination of wandering formats and guided formats. Sometimes there are durational, ongoing events, scheduled performances and installations occurring in the home simultaneously and guests are able to wander at will, and find themselves in a bathtub with someone they don’t know watching a dance projection on the shower or head into a room full of people for a scheduled performance. I was just thinking about the El Sereno show… anyways.
Biba: Wait, what?
Rebecca: There was a performance in the home of SummerCamp’s ProjectProject in El Sereno called “House Arrest” in which Libby Buchanan and Natalie Bowers locked guests in a room for 15 minutes for their performance.
Biba: Wow, neat.
Rebecca: There have been… I think we’ve engaged at least 60 artists in this project so far so I really can’t…
Biba: Wow, that’s a lot.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s been an incredible number of exceptional moments within this whole thing. It’s quite difficult to pick that out. We also practice guided portions of the event where either one work creates the guiding framework or I or someone who helps me with the project verbally guides guests acting as a host for the home and event. For instance, the architect and artist Filipa Valente created an entire work of projections within Michelle Jane Lee’s home which created the structure for guests to move from one side of the studio to the other and, in San Marino, Eylül Savas and Shirelle Sharf greeted and guided groups of 70 guests from one work to the next. We work with this spectrum of an all-open, wandering experience of ongoing performance to scheduled performances and a guided event.
Biba: It sounds like there are really a lot of variations that can happen between those two poles—how to negotiate the public, how to bring them into the space, and circulate them…
Rebecca: I’d be curious to know how your event, how you organized your event “This never happened”? Is that correct?
Biba: Oh, “It Never Really Happened,” here, yes.
Rebecca: I think it’s a sensitive thing, to do, that guiding, that kind of text someone receives as they enter a space and what kind of instruction. Or are they looking for instruction or do they want to wander? There’s so much open it’s not very clear. We don’t have the script for it.
Biba: And it changes the home, it changes the feeling of the home—whether there’s somebody there to greet you and be the host or the hostess, or it's empty… you just sort of enter with this certain kind of anonymity, or this sense of voyeurism, that one might feel… or this sort of haunted house…
Rebecca: Yeah, “What’s going ON?? And Where am I?”
Crystal Sepúlveda at homeLA // El Sereno, photo Andrew Mandinach
Biba: Okay, well we’re getting close to our time, so I just have two questions, and they’re both so different. The last one I wanted to ask you refers to thinking of this project within this larger context of contemporary performance or visual art or contemporary dance, and I think about this home as historically been outside of the… it has a very particular place in relationship to a common need. Also, in terms of the spaces for showing work, exhibiting performances, or presenting work, it’s a part of the machine of buying and selling and circulating, circulating goods in a way, for visual art especially whose economies are much more inflated than for dance. I’m curious how you 1) logistically, do you charge to get in? Is money a thing that you guys also deal with? And then 2) thinking about your first, initial event, and this ability to have access to theaters to show work, as a move of resistance to that lack of access. I'm wondering if you could speak to that a little bit.
Rebecca: Yeah, well I think the economic point in dance, especially within the dance context, is a huge question for me. I think about that a lot with relationship to this project. Beyond the fact that I think actually domestic space, the home space, is incredibly important for this project because it brings this element of getting to know someone else’s way and these relationship-building structures, beyond the value that I think is really embedded in working in a home, working in a home and having a home-owner or renter donate this space omits the fees of renting a theater, hiring a tech crew. We don’t deal with those expenses, and we do sell tickets for the majority of our events. We have a funded event by a grant through Pomona College thanks to Mark Allen’s curatorial class there for our event in Claremont, but for the most part we sell $15 tickets and the ticket sales are divided among the artists. It is a big priority for me and the project to create more opportunities where dance-makers are paid to make dance, because that’s, you know, I imagine you know this very well for yourself, dancers are known to work for free, and with this passion for...
Biba: Right, do it because you love it.
Rebecca: ... inherently being this dancer that needs to dance, all the time. I hope in our own very small way, I hope we are slightly aiding the economic reality for what it means to make dance. I mean, that’s a larger order, we aren’t doing that but we are able to provide an artist fee to each of the artists which to me is very important.
Biba: Yes, that’s important. Well, my last question…shall I?
Rebecca: Yes, go for it.
Biba: It’s like the last page of Vanity Fair magazine. What’s your favorite moment that you can remember, when you found yourself thinking, “HomeLA! I can’t believe this is happening!”?
Terrence Luke John at homeLA:studio // The Brewery, photo Andrew Mandinach
Rebecca: Okay, I’ll tell you the last one, because I think it happens two or three times an event, there’s a lot of pleasant surprises. In San Marino, a neighbor of the hosts approached me after the show. He mentioned to me he works in finance, but as a younger person he studied film and hasn’t touched film or his creative practice for many years. He told me that between two of our shows (we had three that day) he attended he walked back to his house and instead of walking on the sidewalk he walked in the middle of the street and as he did so he—and if you’ve been to San Marino the streets are really wide, so it's pretty epic—as he was doing that he was also, he said, noticing that he was seeing differently. And when he got to his house he sat at his piano and he allowed himself to play whatever was coming through him. He thanked me for the event and I think that that moment to me encapsulates what I find really valuable about the event. When the strange and familiar moments exist side-by-side and we get to see a bit differently.
Biba: That’s a profound shift.
Rebecca: That was a huge gift, I think. Because the logistical stuff gets pretty… tedious is the right word. So, I think that came at such a nice time, to be affirmed and say, "Great, I think at least parts of it are working."
Biba: Yes, absolutely. It sounds that they are.
Biba Bell (b. 1976, Sebastopol) lives and works in Detroit and NYC. Bell’s performance work has been shown at Times Square Arts and the Clocktower Gallery NYC, Insel Hombroich Germany, Visual Art Center Austin, Detroit Institute of Art, The Garage for Contemporary Culture Moscow, The Kitchen NYC, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Human Resources Los Angeles, Centre Pompidou Paris, Henry Miller Library Big Sur, PaceWildenstein Gallery NYC, Jack Hanley Gallery NYC, Movement Research at Judson Memorial Church NYC, Roulette NYC, The Garage San Francisco, amongst others. Her current performance and video project is a three-part dance in a Mies van der Rohe apartment in Detroit (funded in part by The Knight Foundation) and she additionally performs with choreographer Maria Hassabi. Bell has a PhD in performance studies from New York University and is currently a guest professor in performance at the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen, Germany.
Biba Bell, dance, homeLA, los angeles, Rebecca Bruno