From the art-in-strange-places department comes the story of Lake Enchanto—the eccentric, interdisciplinary activation of a once-bustling miniature nature reserve on the Northeastern edge of LA, in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Peter Strauss Ranch was a fancy-rustic getaway in the wooded hills, complete with family attractions, hiking trails, picnic gardens, a lake, stone and earthen amphitheaters, aviaries, and all that other mid-century family adventure stuff that came with cocktails for the parents.
The Ranch languished after Disneyland burst onto the local vacation scene, but it was resurrected as a public park by a progressive civic program nurturing green-space and the arts. It's fitting then, that Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, known for staging ambitious dance performances in unexpected places, would activate the site. Along with multidisciplinary collaborators, they are staging visual and performance art projects that encourage experiencing the landscape and offer a profound meditation on its history.
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre is an LA-based company whose raison d'etre is the occupation of unconventional spaces, staging site-specific, quasi-improvisational performances that frequently also involve visual artists and musicians in ephemeral public activations. They've performed at LAX, libraries, city halls, outdoor plazas, garages, abandoned hospitals, pockets of overlooked urban landscaping, and more.
Painter and muralist Kim West is a friend of Duckler's. Though she's long wanted collaborate with the choreographer, West wasn't comfortable with performing herself. But one day, when Duckler was visiting her studio, a lightbulb went off. Spying a vintage floral bathing suit that belonged to her grandmother—West displays the garment as a source of inspiration for her nature-inspired, ethereal paintings—the artist mentioned she'd love to work in a swimming pool. By happenstance, Duckler had just the one in mind.
The result is Lake Enchanto, a 115-foot composite mural installation built from scores of panel paintings on walls and scaffolding inside a mostly-drained concrete pool, which West executed on site over the course of many weeks. Meanwhile, Duckler's company conceptualized and perfected an hour-long dance performance which took place in direct contact with the artwork.
At dusk, an audience of about 200 was ushered into the basin, into which a trio of dancers descended, all clad in vintage bathing suits. The dancers moved through a steep amphitheater before entering the pool, traversing its entirety with gracefully humorous choreography, assiduously avoiding a brackish puddle at one end. They finished by ritually tearing down many of the in-pool paintings as the sun sank below the horizon. Lake Enchanto was scored live by experimental musician Davy Sumner, who crafted a responsive sampler from sounds captured on site, in a perfect mashup of Art of Noise meets Martin Denny ambient trance.
The Kim West mural is on view through September 9, vulnerable as it is to the machinations of weather and wildlife, as the site will host a handful of other outdoor installations and happenings in June, July, and August. Sculptor Ben Allanoff's Peace Factory fractal log assembly will host an event on June 17 at 10:30AM. Olga Lah's Bloom, adjacent to the pool, is a stepped hillside festooned with hundreds of pink plastic fiberoptic bouquets, which Duckler also incorporated in her choreography. Bloom will host its own happening on August 20 at 4PM. Painter Natalie Smith's trailhead sign will be "activated" on July 9 at 3PM, and also on that date, Alchemist Ballet takes place at 4PM by dancer Chasity Ramsey in the pool housing West's mural. A tip for those planning on attending this summer: plan a picnic, wear flat shoes, and bring bug spray.
Arts in Parks is open daily through September 9, with a series of performances and concerts each month. Follow National Parks Service | Santa Monica Mountains on Instagram for details.