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.
Political graphics of a more politic sort will be on display at Impolitic, a gallery of opinionated art, 2665 Main St. in Santa Monica. From 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 13, the gallery is throwing a party to celebrate the works of editorial cartoonists, including Pulitzer Prize winners Paul Conrad and Michael Ramirez, as well as current op-ed-page rage Jack Ohman and Santa Monica‘s own Tony Peyser.
Back to dancing: For the last seven years, an amorphous band of pagans, goddess-worshipers and all-around good people who call themselves ”Moontribe“ have been clandestinely caravaning out to the desert on full moons to scratch up records and dance until dawn. But as of its seventh anniversary this June, the Moontribe secret seems to be out; Moontribe, in fact, has cracked the establishment code. Los Angeles boasts a Moontribe-adjacent mayoral candidate (Francis DellaVecchia), Bureau of Land Management rangers have been invited in to groove to the beat, and people affiliated with Moontribe have managed to secure a permit from the city for a four-day party in MacArthur Park. From Monday through Thursday, August 14 through 17, DanceSafe, Right To Dance and Moontribe are cooperating to produce ”Four Days of Unity,“ an electronic-music festival being held in protest of the War on Drugs and new proposals from the BLM to restrict sound systems and dancing on open land. The DJ lineup includes the ubiquitous Jason Bentley and Moontribe’s illustrious Treavor, and Ladzarus of Element Zero has created a Web animation at http:www.khor eia.com to recalibrate agitated beta waves for the event. (”I‘m saying don’t provoke, don‘t react,“ says Ladzarus, who was moved to make art by events on the streets of Philadelphia. ”I’m saying keep dancing.“)Organizer Jeff Nelson warns potential ravers not to get too hung up on the Moontribe association: ”Basically what we‘re trying to do is create an event for the community at large to come together and stand united on the issues,“ he says. Khoreia, by the way, is Greek for chorus, ”because that’s what we are doing,“ says Ladzarus. ”Dancing as a chorus.“ For updates, call the Four Days hot line, (213) 368-6430.
If you need to dance to a tougher beat, visit the Demon-Critter Corn-vention at Al‘s Bar, 305 S. Hewitt St., downtown, on Wednesday, August 16: The Downtown Devil Dogs, W.A.C.O. (Wildstares Acoustic Chamber Orchestra), The Pinkos and ”sexy anarchists“ (aren’t they all?) The Leaving Trains precede uber-bassist Mike Watt & the Pair of Pliers. A tear-gas-free event.
Ram Dass himself came to visit Julie Rico‘s gallery on the night of August 5, at least in part because, along with Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna, he’s featured in one of Dean Chamberlain‘s candy-acid-colored portraits of psychedelic adventurers. But Dass is probably the kind of guy who knows — nay, intuits — how to find cultural ground zero on a Saturday in Santa Monica. Rico, who once exhibited 300 sheets of blotter acid on her gallery walls, currently has on exhibit a show called ”Realms of the Imagination,“ featuring Chamberlain’s photographs, Peter Heil‘s paintings, and black-light sculptures by Lenny Felix — ecstatic, whimsical burlesques of stained-glass art, sort of like what you might imagine the 12 Stations of the Cross would look like on about an eighth of superground psilocybin. Through September 2, at the Julie Rico Gallery, 208 Pier Ave. in Santa Monica, you can gaze into Chamberlain’s photograph of Ecstasy gurus Alexander and Ann Shulgin cuddled in connubial bliss and think of all that MDMA held up at customs.
Less cuddly but no less psychedelic, The American Cinematheque, in conjunction with L.A. Weekly, presents a weekend of political film to gear up for the Democratic National Convention. Friday, August 11, director Torrie Rosenzweig will appear at a screening of her film about the tobacco industry, Smoke and Mirrors: A History of Denial, followed by John Frankenheimer‘s 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate, with Tippi Hedren and George Axelrod on hand to discuss. Saturday, August 12, Weekly executive editor Harold Meyerson will lead a post-screening discussion of The War Room and The Candidate, followed by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent (1962). Sunday, Arthur Dong will be present at a screening of his 1996 film about violence against gays, Licensed To Kill, and the movie All the President‘s Men (1976) will stand alone, without celebrity enhancement. All films will be shown at the Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
When the political has become not only the personal but the carnal, edible, visible and metaphysical — that is, when the Democrats and demonstrators have so saturated the local culture that not even a molecule of smog remains apolitical — there’s always the multiplex (but avoid X-Men — there‘s a senator in it, and I think something about gay rights. Stick to the 90-foot wave, or The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle). Otherwise, resign yourself to the inevitable result of an invasion, and go to the theater. At last count, there were 10 local productions directly concerned with our state of political affairs, including a multimedia, onlineoffline collaboration called The Roman Forum (Side Street Projects) and The Actors’ Gang‘s How To Steal an Election. (See details on the Theater page.) Also consider at least a respite from all-American politics at Highways, where Laura Amara Osweiler will present ”An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance“ on Friday and Saturday, August 11 and 12. This is no mere belly dance: Osweiler promises an avant-garde event that explores what it means to wear all those bracelets and gyrate one’s midsection before a family feasting on lamb and hummus. Highways is at 1651 18th St., Santa Monica.
The LAPD could very well follow Philadelphia‘s lead and cram all puppets, signs and other protest paraphernalia — including those aforementioned 545 crosses — into the city’s garbage compactors. But there‘s more than one way to honor Mexico. On Thursday, August 17, The Hollywood Bowl presents ”A Latin Fiesta,“ with Enrique Diemecke of the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Mexico conducting guitarist Manuel Barrueco and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program that includes Revueltas’ ”Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca,“ Carlos Chavez and Dietrich Buxtehude‘s ”Chaconne in E Minor“ and Ravel’s ”Bolero.“ Tickets go as cheap as a dollar, but tourists should buy a box, bring a picnic and live large and bourgeois without guilt — the Bowl is a nonprofit organization and a rare cultural leveler in this city of undistributed wealth. It‘s also among the most lovely, comfortable and comforting venues still standing in the world. Sit. Eat. Take in the sight of that familiar, picturesque bandshell under a just-waning moon. And allow yourself to imagine that, with the mayhem and dreary speeches of the political conventions behind us, all’s right with the world. At least for an evening.