On Saturday, November 13, 2021 at 3:00 pm Donna Sternberg & Dancers performed Sternberg’s newest site-specific work Art Speaks on the historic Culver City Hall plaza. The company repeated their performance the next day, Sunday the 14th. Art Speaks was inspired by a several of the public art installations in the Culver City area as well as the city’s history, some of which I was not aware of until this performance. Sternberg states on her company’s website that it is their mission “to discover, transform, connect” and it is indeed one of her continuing successes and contributions to the arts since establishing Donna Sternberg & Dancers in 1985.
The audience was directed to stand in certain areas of the plaza by Sternberg as her company performed in archways, along a long concrete passageway lined by brick pillars, running fountains and beautiful poplar trees. They danced on two of the building’s levels and on the central plaza area in front of the absolutely gorgeous stained-glass screens created by Ed Carpenter titled “Hanging Garden”; a large installation located on the outside of the building’s third floor. Sternberg seamlessly incorporated several of the sculptures, pillars and fountains into her choreography, including a humorous section that utilized artist Barbara McCarren’s “Panoramic”, a replica of a life-size movie camera from the early 20th century, made of painted sheet bronze and stainless steel.
Having danced in the companies of Donald Byrd, Mary Jane Eisenberg, Yen Lu Wong and Dance/LA, Sternberg’s movement beautifully embraces the modern dance styles of the 1970s and ‘80s. Her choreography for Art Speaks gave voice to the surrounding architecture of the Culver City Hall building, the artwork and the not so favorable historical fact that Culver City was once a sundown town where people of color were not permitted after sundown. She also depicted the genocide of the indigenous peoples such as the Tongva who lived in what is now called the Los Angeles basin.
This section was the most moving part of Art Speaks. The five dancers (Alisa Carreras, Paloma Michel, Micah Moch, Laura Ann Smyth, Alaya Turnbough) sat lined along the sculpture pool and created a scene of Native Americans rowing a long canoe along the Ballona Creek. We watched as they moved through gestures of fishing, hunting, developing and honoring Mother Earth. Sternberg portrayed the genocide of the Native Americans by each dancer collapsing one at a time until none were left.
Sternberg paid homage to the art work with both abstract and literal movement. Performers followed a filmmaker’s direction to play out a scene before he mimed using McCarren’s “Panoramic” to film the action. Physical shapes and movement phrases portrayed a sculpture’s lines, contours and designs, gently directing the audience’s eye toward an installation or the building’s architectural features – “discover, transform, connect”.
Not all of the choreography was her best, but what Sternberg did extremely well was making that connection between her movement and our history, the art, and the architecture. Sternberg has a wonderful way of bringing out each of her company members’ strengths and therefore presented them at their best. Special mention is deserved by Alisa Carreras and Micah Moch for their performances of their solos, but the entire company looked strong.
To learn more about Donna Sternberg & Dancers, please visit their website.
To read more about the history of the city of Culver City, please click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Donna Sternberg & Dancers – Alisa Carreras in Art Speaks – Photo by Sarah Catania