She Rolls with the Waves
Annenberg Beach House choreographer in residence Rebecca Bruno takes dance out of the studio and into the elements
By Christina Campodonico
Most choreographers prepare their dances indoors — in studios with ballet bars and mirrors, doors, windows and floors. L.A.-based choreographer Rebecca Bruno takes her work home and, now more frequently, outside.
As this September’s choreographer in residence at the Annenberg Community Beach House, Bruno is working with less-stable elements — wind, water, surf and sand — looking for an anchor to moor her work within the site’s ever-changing conditions.
“I feel like being so close to the ocean and the wind, and the sun and the sand … I’m definitely being challenged to take in a lot of information,” Bruno says of her upcoming work, “Fixtures,” which premieres Friday on the Annenberg Beach House campus.
For most, the Beach House is a place to unwind, but for Bruno it’s an ever-moving canvas.
“The site transforms on the hour. Every day is different. Sometimes it’s so quiet. The guesthouse is closed. There aren’t many people, but yesterday it was packed [with] people — events happening everywhere. Kids running in and out of the pool.
“Things are shifting around … rain, events, chairs, tables!” says Bruno with a hint of exasperation, but mostly excitement. “We’re checking up on tide charts. The heat.”
As Bruno runs through her checklist of considerations while we talk in her office at the Marion Davies Guest House, I sense that these variables are the driving force behind her creative process at the Annenberg Community Beach House, whose history is also a factor. Not only does the site’s storied past as the beachside playground for actress Marion Davies and publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst linger, the dance legacy of the Los Angeles-based Denishawn school weighs on her mind.
With so many elements in flux, Bruno’s choreographic inclination is to stay still.
“I think the strongest impulse I’m feeling is wanting to be a fixture in the space,” she says of her creative process.
It’s a statement that rings true in rehearsal as I watch Bruno and dance partner Samantha Mohr uncurl from crouching positions, like Grecian statues, gradually awakening to life.
Yet in practice, this statement seems contrary to Bruno’s artistic ethos. She’s never been one to color inside the lines. Most aspiring dancers begin their ballet training well before high school, but Bruno chose instead to focus on jazz and modern dance. When her jazz instructor urged her to try out a ballet class, she balked at its formal elements and strict structure.
“I’ll always remember,” she says, “walking into this room — just a line of young girls all in pink leotards and pink tights… and I just looked and said, ‘Hell, no! I don’t want to wear pink, and I don’t want to be tested!’”
That same independent spirit came out again after Bruno graduated from UC San Diego in 2008 and was frustrated by the lack of accessible studio and rehearsal space for young artists.
Inspired by the intimate jazz concerts her parents hosted in her childhood home, Bruno transformed her house into a laboratory for making and presenting work. She and her roommates moved every stick of furniture from their three-bedroom bungalow onto the driveway and they opened up the house for a performance.
‘It may have been all an elaborate plot to have a dance party,” jokes Bruno.
Yet the dance party has continued in a way with Bruno’s most inventive contribution to the L.A. dance scene to date — homeLA, an event series that brings salon-style performances by artists
of various creative backgrounds into domestic spaces.
Bruno founded the collective in 2013 and continues to curate its events, which have occured in various places throughout the city, including the historic J.B. Merrill House in Mount Washington and the Women’s Center for Creative Work along the L.A. River.
Even though Bruno has organized performances in almost every kind of residential space, she still approaches her upcoming work at the Annenberg Community Beach House with a touch of trepidation.
“Indoor home spaces are controlled, in a sense. We define them with our objects, with our design, with our minimalism, with our whatever. And this space is determined, definitely — in its architecture and design and everything — but can’t escape the sound of the ocean. You can’t escape the force of the wind and the tide … wherever it is at a given time,” she says. “You’re going through your process in public, outside. In a way, there’s just a lot more vulnerability.”
When she says this I think of a broken shell she showed me earlier. For Bruno,
it symbolizes shelter and protection. I can see why. A tiny fragment with a dried out barnacle and the fossilized remnant of some lost tentacle fused to its core, the shell looks as if it’s weathered many storms. Yet somehow these tiny creatures survived.
It’s a fitting metaphor for Bruno’s current state of being in this space — seeking shelter from the stimuli that surround her on a day-to-day basis.
Yet Bruno has also found inspiration in exposing her choreographic process to the elements and to a public audience, confident that things will eventually settle into place.
“I think there’s this opportunity to con-
front what it means to have this kind of dance process in a public space,” she says.
During rehearsal, Bruno rolls slowly on a concrete pathway, appearing like a glamorous sunbather, oozing glacially into a molten layer of sand.
While the choreography to come will be “fixed,” in this moment she’s a sponge, soaking up information from the shore.
See Rebecca Bruno’s “Fixtures” at 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Annenberg Community Beach House. 415 Pacific Coast Hwy., Santa Monica. Performances are free, but reservations are required. RSVP at annenbergbeachhouse.com.