Founded in 1985 by Artistic/Executive Director and choreographer Heidi Duckler, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre has created memorable dance experiences in extraordinary locations for over two decades.
The company—originally named Collage Dance Theatre—began its site-specific work with Laundromatinee, a piece staged in a local laundromat. As dancers performed alongside whirring washers and dryers, Laundromatinee captured the collage ethos of the company, mixing art, movement, pop culture, and interactivity in found spaces. The performance established the company’s dedication to sharing the inner workings of its creative process, rather than sequestering it behind closed studio doors. Due to its artistic openness, the company also fostered unconventional, unique relationships to its (sometimes accidental) audience. “[Viewers] loved sitting on the washers and some brought us gifts of Tide and Cheer and fabric softener,” Duckler remembers. “One guy did his wash in the middle of the show and everyone applauded!”
Drawing from the success of Laundromatinee, in its early days the company continued to create site-specific works that were small, real, and witty. As the company grew, however, it’s exploration of everyday places grew in scale and depth. Experimenting with the outdoor environment as a theatre, Duckler animated locations ranging from a baseball diamond (Stealing Home, 1993) to an empty swimming pool (Life in the Lap Lane, 1994) and the concreted Los Angeles River (Mother Ditch, 1995). Duckler also created immersive experiences that not only invigorated total environments but included viewers as adventurous, mobile participants; in Most Wanted (1997), for example, the audience was fingerprinted before traveling with the dance through the hallways, security areas, and cells of the Lincoln Heights Jail. Simultaneously, performances engaged a staggering number of senses, pairing dance with live music, video, projections, text, and elaborate sets and costumes.
The company’s site-specific reach did not go unnoticed, and a series of productions in iconic Los Angeles sites pushed it to national and international recognition. Works created in the Subway Terminal Building (Subversions, 2000), Herald Examiner Building (Cover Story, 2002), and the former Ambassador Hotel (Sleeping with the Ambassador, 2003) reimagined legendary locations with fresh, relevant art that responded to each site’s colorful history. “We couldn’t restore or save historic buildings, but we could offer people artistic perspectives on the past that were engaging, fun, intelligent, and celebrated our culture—and the size of the audiences grew and grew,” Duckler remembers. Through subsequent opportunities in Hong Kong, Denmark, and Russia, the company reached international eyes and flexed its creative muscles to work in sites that had only been seen through photographs—in essence, creating site-specific work on the spot.