A three-by-three grid of rectangles fills the screen. In each rectangle: a dancer, confined. Their deft gestures seem to push against the hard lines that enclose them, but they can’t break free. On all sides, they are surrounded by people, but these are people that can only be seen, not touched. The dancers bring their faces closer, until their mouths fill the rectangles. They’re calling out, but they can’t be heard. It’s a picture of isolation, brought to us through our screens. Screens which, right now, are like windows: opening us up to an outside world that can only been seen, not smelled, tasted, or touched, and — in the case of this section of Heidi Duckler’s Illuminating the Chandelier — not even heard.

With her past choreography, Los Angeles-based site-specific dance pioneer Duckler has taken audiences everywhere: from St. John’s Cathedral in LA’s historic West Adams neighborhood to the roof of the NoMad Hotel in downtown, and from the Peter Strauss Ranch in the Santa Monica mountains all the way to Valparaíso, Chile. And now she’s tackled a new space: Zoom.

Duckler’s latest work, Illuminating the Chandelier, was choreographed and designed specifically for the online meeting platform, which has gained popularity during the worldwide stay-at-home orders brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. After the postponement of her evening length work, The Chandelier — which would have been presented at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in April — Duckler, her company, and the team at the Wallis turned to Zoom meetings to discuss next steps.

Heidi Duckler Dance in "Illuminating the Chandelier" choreography by Heidi Duckler - Screen Shot by LADC

Heidi Duckler Dance in “Illuminating the Chandelier” choreography by Heidi Duckler – Screen Shot by LADC

Even in a time when the prospects for dance companies are unusually grim, Duckler’s choreographic brain was running a mile a minute. She had an idea.

“There is a profound sense of intimacy on Zoom in a way that we’ve never really had before. We get up close and really concentrate on one another. So, I was just thinking: ‘Well, I wonder what I can do with that.’”

This is how Illuminating the Chandelier — the 40-minute Zoom-specific work that premiered on the evening of Thursday, April 30th — was born. The piece was inspired by Clarice Lispector’s novel The Chandelier and presented as a precursor to the postponed performance of the same name.

The novel is a coming-of-age story, documenting the internal life and emotions of a young woman, Virginia (danced by Magdalena Edwards in Illuminating the Chandelier). Virginia grows up in the country, and when she is older, moves to the city. Once a city dweller, she finds that she has a hard time connecting with the people around her. As Duckler began to explore The Chandelier through the lens of the changed world we all now inhabit, she found Virginia’s story particularly apt for the times.

“This story about Virginia is very much a story about a woman who was in isolation and very dissociated from reality,” Duckler said. “I thought, well, my goodness, this is a very relevant story for the world that is coming upon us today.”

In section two of the seven part work, Virginia’s hands fill the screen. Rubbing together tenderly, yet vigorously, the action is reminiscent of the hand-washing ritual with which —by now — we are all well accustomed. The gesture is accompanied by phrases from the novel, which create an eerie, yet captivating soundscape for the dancers to embody.

Heidi Duckler Dance in "Illuminating the Chandelier" choreography by Heidi Duckler - Screen shot by LADC

Heidi Duckler Dance in “Illuminating the Chandelier” choreography by Heidi Duckler – Screen shot by LADC

“The great still life in which she was living…”

“Living her life with no ecstasy…”

“Living the same moment…”

At some point during our own personal isolations, these phrases have echoed within us all. Through Duckler’s choreography, Virginia’s story, and the committed actions and characterizations of the dancers, we are able to see our own feelings personified.

The dancers, too, feel a heightened connection to the protagonist after having created, rehearsed, and performed Illuminating the Chandelier entirely on Zoom.

“I feel like we’re all experiencing somewhat of a vacant, Virginia moment of our own,” said Himerria Wortham, who is both the Associate Artistic Director and a dancer with Heidi Duckler Dance. “It feels a little lonely, because dance is an art where we’re used to being with each other and working off of each other.”

Heidi Duckler Dance - Magdalena Edwards in "Illuminating the Chandelier" choreography by Heidi Duckler - Screen shot by LADC

Heidi Duckler Dance – Magdalena Edwards in “Illuminating the Chandelier” choreography by Heidi Duckler – Screen shot by LADC

The result of the artist’s newfound parallel with Virginia is a chilling opus with a spectral, almost hallucinatory quality. Illuminating the Chandelier sheds light on Virginia’s isolation, as well as our own.

But though the story is grave and the current worldwide circumstances are less than ideal, the prospect of presenting a performance in a virtual space opens up new possibilities for audiences and performers alike. Rafael Quintas, a native of Brazil, was able to perform for his extended family — who still reside in Brazil — for the first time.

“It’s a treasure that I’ll be able to send this link to my family,” Quintas said. “All my cousins that have never even visited me in the U.S. are going to be able to log in and watch.”

And in addition to being able to present the work across the globe, Illuminating the Chandelier is sure to resonate globally, too.

The work ends with Virginia, full screen. She dons a black beret, and — all too familiar to us — a black medical mask. Her eyes flick to the camera, and she holds our gaze. It seems to be an attempt at connection. And though the mask obscuring her smile creates a barrier between us, we connect with Virginia, too.

The Wallis will announce the official postponement dates for “The Chandelier” later this month. “Illuminating the Chandelier” will be made available for on-demand streaming. Specific information will be available in the coming weeks.

Sophie Bress - Photo courtesy of the author

Sophie Bress – Photo courtesy of the author

Sophie Bress is a journalist and dancer based in Southern California. Her work focuses on placing art within our cultural conversations and recognizing artists as essential elements of our societal framework. In August 2020, she will graduate from the University of Southern California with an M.A. in arts journalism. Her byline can be found in Dance Magazine, Ampersand and The Spokesman-Review. When she is not writing or dancing, she is most likely reading, listening to music, or playing with her dog, Pluto.



To learn more about Heidi Duckler Dance, click here.

To visit the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, click here.

Featured image: Heidi Duckler Dance – Magdalena Edwards in Illuminating the Chandelier choreography by Heidi Duckler – Screen shot by LADC