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Dancing for the DNC 

Things to do in L.A. when you’re delegating (or not)

Wednesday, Aug 9 2000

Alli Starr has this fond memory of her life as an activist: In Seattle last December, she arrived at the intersection of Fourth and Pine, where 50 women had locked themselves down around a platform to protest the use of sweatshop labor. ”The police had arrived in the early morning, and by the late afternoon these women, really young women -- in their 20s, most of them -- had been rained on and pepper-sprayed most of the day.“ So Starr and her group of six dancers jumped on top of the platform and did what they came to do: They danced, a slow-motion harmonious movement, like a prayer. ”All of a sudden the energy began to change,“ says Starr. At first the crowd went quiet, then they began to sing. ”At one point, we had a hundred voices singing ’Amazing Grace‘ together.“ Best of all, the police backed off. ”They just didn’t know what to think of us,“ Starr says with a laugh. ”I guess it‘s pretty hard to arrest a dance company.“

Such serendipity is impossible to re-create, but be on the lookout for it when Starr comes to Los Angeles to join Art and Revolution member David Solnit and scores of other activists to sing, puppet-parade and dance, literally, in the streets during the Democratic National Convention. The week kicks off on Sunday, August 13, with a ”beach party“ to demand respect and a living wage for all workers, beginning at the Gap on the Third Street Promenade and marching to Santa Monica Beach, where there’ll be a cultural celebration featuring Bay Area hip-hop group The Company of Prophets, The Soul and Fusion Dance Troupe, and a special appearance by that inestimable firebrand of campaign finance reform, Granny D.

Starr and her dancers will also be part of a procession of 545 cross-bearers moving out from the intersection of Eighth and Santee at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 17 -- a memorial to the men and women who have lost their lives this year crossing the border from Mexico to California. Participants in the march had initially made white crosses out of wood and inscribed them with messages in black, but an ordinance in the Los Angeles Municipal Code forbids demonstrators from carrying such big sticks. ”So we remade them all in foam-core,“ Starr says. This ”sea of remembrance,“ as Starr calls it, will be on display throughout the week at the First United Methodist Church of Los Angeles, 1010 S. Flower St. (at Olympic).

Dance is an inventive way to shut down a street and disarm the authorities, but it‘s also a useful tool in engaging and organizing a community. Heidi Duckler, artistic director of Collage Dance Theater, has created dance pieces in laundries, on rooftops and in garages, and even in the Los Angeles River. For three weekends this summer, she’s conducted workshops in Culver City teaching what she calls ”environmental composition“ with the goal of creating a performance, ”a microcosm of the world . . . where each group contributes to the greater whole.“ The work, entitled Governing Bodies, will be presented at the Culver City Hall Courtyard, 9770 Culver Blvd., on Saturday, August 12, at 4 p.m.

Both Starr and Duckler function pretty much without corporate financial assistance (although Duckler secured some funding from Culver City‘s civic Arts Committee). But that doesn’t mean art has to be unfettered to be freethinking. One of these days, some upper-level bureaucrat at the offices of Absolut vodka is going to look up from his lingonberry pancakes and scream: ”What? We gave money to whom?“ Until that day comes, though, we may as well continue to reap the benefits of Absolut‘s generosity with artists, even anti-corporate, anti-advertising and downright political ones. On Sunday, August 13, from 6 to 9 p.m., Absolut, artnet.com and ARTSLA will co-host an event called, quite plainly, ”A Celebration of the Arts on the Eve of the Democratic National Convention“ at Bergamot Station Arts Complex, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. The event, otherwise known as ”P art y,“ will feature ”A Presidential Rogues Gallery: Satirical Posters, 1960s--Present“ from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (at FrumkinDuval Gallery), live music, open houses in the complex’s 25 galleries, food and drink. Admission is $20 with an RSVP, (310) 392-8399; $30 at the door.

The Center for the Study of Political Graphics, a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational archive, is milking these interesting times for all it can get, and who can blame them -- it‘s not every year that a major political party’s convention lands in your back yard, increasing exponentially the number of eyes that will remain open and unglazed when you drop the word political into a title. ”Can‘t Jail the Spirit: Political Prisoners in the United States,“ organized by CSPG in collaboration with Highways Gallery, presents posters current and historical from the anarchist movements of the early 20th century, the McCarthy era and the movement to free Leonard Peltier. Seeing as how the events swirling around the Republican National Convention have added to the ranks of political prisoners in the United States, activists returning from Philadelphia might want to visit the exhibit just for inspiration. ”Can’t Jail the Spirit“ opens with a reception on Friday, August 11, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at 1651 18th St. in Santa Monica, and runs through August 27.

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