Jay Carlon’s Annenberg Beach House project brings refugee crisis to our shores

By Christina Campodonico

The shoreline serves as Jay
Carlon’s stage
Photo by Andrew Mandinach

The beach is Jay Carlon’s canvas. This year’s Annenberg Beach House choreographer-in-residence premiers his solo-directorial work “Out of Bounds” this Sunday on the sandy shores below the community pool and recreation center.

The inspiration for the piece — influenced by the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly the tragic image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up dead on a Turkish beach in 2015 — came to Carlon as he was meditating at the beach house and exploring the areas around it.

“When I got the residency, I had no idea where the performance was going to be. … I was trying to figure out how to frame this space. It was so vast. I was standing with my feet in the water,” he recalls. “Everyone is relaxing, sunbathing, swimming or having a good time and then the Syrian boy, who washed up on the shore came to mind. How can I create work that will bring attention to a topic and maybe somehow bring a call to action?”

On Sunday and at open dress rehearsals on Friday and Saturday, about 30 performers will crawl around in the sand and waves, creating a “flash mob-like” installation that moves across the beach and aims to bring attention to the plight of immigrants and refugees everywhere.

As the child of migrant farm workers, immigration is an issue close to Carlon’s heart.

“A lot of my work has been about borders and boundaries and lines that divide us, and thinking of these lines — these borders and shores — as these places or sites of trauma, whether it be the Gaza Strip or the Mexican-American border,” says Carlon, who grew up in Santa Barbara County and attended UC Irvine and Cal State Long Beach for dance. “Being a dancer, going to conservatories, and training on these clean studio and pristine stages, it’s great and comfortable, but I felt I needed to get out of something that was so formal … to return to nature, dirt and my migrant self.”

Even though “Out of Bounds” focuses on serious themes, rehearsing on the beach has revealed some of life’s beauties.

“There were dolphins swimming in the water that we were rehearsing in,” Carlon said last week, just off a performance at the Broad Museum, where he did improvisatory “dance bombings” amid blue-chip artworks by Kara Walker and Jeff Koons five days before.

“So seldom do we share rehearsal space with dolphins,” he said. “Today was a good reminder.”


“Out of Bounds” debuts at 5 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 8) at the Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Hwy, Santa Monica. Open dress rehearsals happen at 5 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. Free. Call (310) 458-4904 or visit annenbergbeachhouse.com.