“The next departure is 7:30 p.m.,” announced a voice over the intercom at the Van Nuys FlyAway, the sleek, park-n-ride bus terminal where you can hop a ride to LAX.
That seemed to be the signal to move, and the young men and women standing sentinel-like by the circular information desk came to life. Everyone had a wheeled suitcase, and their gestures of greeting and expectant waiting looked normal enough. One woman tapped her foot. Another ran forward a few steps waving, her face lighting up with delight. But, oops, no, that wasn't her friend/lover/ride. The waiting resumed.
A white-haired woman without a suitcase hurried past the information desk into the restroom, not even noticing the unusually self-contained men and women. On the way out, however, she did a double-take at this slightly abnormal scene, probably clued in by the 75 spectators lining the walls, staring intently at these “travelers.” A little bit of The Twilight Zone in the Valley.
This was how FlyAway Home by Sarah Elgart began Sunday evening. Dance first arrived at the Van Nuys FlyAway courtesy of choreographer Anna B. Scott in May 2011. Elgart's piece debuted a few months later. Both shows were so popular that the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs teamed up with Los Angeles World Airports to produce a series of three concerts this September and October. Elgart, a director, choreographer and dancer who glides between commercial and concert dance, was invited to reprise FlyAway Home. In addition, Heidi Duckler and String Theory made new pieces several weeks ago.
FlyAway Home became more suggestive and creative as it went along. The artistic choices facing a site-specific artist are filled with potholes not faced by a choreographer working in a theater. How much do you choose to recognize and illustrate the actual purpose of this unorthodox site for dance? Too little and there's no point in being there. Too much and the dance becomes a bore, too literal.
Most of FlyAway Home took place outdoors, and its vocabulary and themes broadened once the dancers were outside, under Lili Lakich's 114-foot aluminum, brass, cooper and neon sculpture, and the beautiful tree-filled courtyard, which Elgart animated particularly well.
The moving image of a dove taking off, wings stroking, was projected against the parking structure (created by Stephen Glassman and Ed Braverman). The dancing became an off-balance fight with gravity. Dressed in white, with helium bird balloons tied to her limbs, Andrea Schermoly was a jerky marionette — until the balloons were released and she became free, too. Ja Young Kim wrestled with a stretchy yellow river of fabric with which she wrapped the courtyard trees and herself. Dancers posed above us in the parking structure and rode up and down in glass elevators. Guzman Rosado carried Sara Silkin across his shoulders, enabling her to walk on a wall.
These separate images pooled together to evoke longing for home, freedom, flying and our earthbound nature. Not new ideas, of course, but crafted with strength, liveliness, whimsy and empathy.