“I like to think of it as my own secret entrance to The Bowl,” Karen said, as she steered off Cahuenga Blvd onto a side street and into the Hollywood Hills.
We were heading to the Hollywood Bowl to see the Diavolo Dance Theater perform to music by Philip Glass, which would be performed by the LA Philharmonic. After parking, we hiked up a winding, narrow residential street. It was the golden hour – sunlight light came in soft and yellow through the green trees between colorful houses. The temperature cooled noticeably as the sun continued to lower. It was a fine evening after a long, hot day.
Moments later, we fell in line with the flock of other Angelenos walking up from the venue’s parking lots. After presenting our tickets, Karen and I found our section in the nosebleed seats. Below us, tiny people filed into the mezzanine and orchestra sections of the amphitheater. Straight ahead – above and over the stage – stood the HOLLYWOOD sign, lit to a brilliant white by the dying sun. A dusk, a few bats fluttered across the sky. The sound of crickets grew louder, and more little humans filed into the venue. Karen’s friends were sitting just behind us. By the time she introduced me to everyone it was dark, the HOLLYWOOD sign had been consumed by the night. When the houselights lowered, the orchestra began to warm up. Everyone stopped talking and I drifted from the vast silence of the place…
…to earlier in the week on Monday afternoon, when the founders of Independent Shakespeare Company – David Melville and Melissa Chalsma – held a party for the cast and crew at their house. The company’s 2013 festival in Griffith Park had closed the night before. Everybody was in a good mood, drinking, laughing, eating.
“Our first show was ten years ago,” said Melissa. “14 people showed up. And a dog. The dog left at intermission. Last night, 2,600 people showed up.”
Many of the actors and crew had other gigs lined up, day jobs, husbands or wives, boy or girl friends, or children who required their focus, bringing them further out of the fading summer. As people began to leave, there was much hugging and many fare-thee-wells and see-you-soons with just a hint of but when?
Tuesday, David, myself and a handful of volunteers met up at the park to load up set pieces and props. We couldn’t take the set down, because the Symphony In The Glen would be performing on the coming Saturday. This delayed my exit from LA for a week, but that was fine. I was having a good time floating around LA. It was hot on Tuesday, however, and we all dripped sweat as the day reached infernal temperatures.
“My god,” said David, panting, wiping the sweat from his brow after we loaded a piano into the U-Haul truck. “It was uphill when we unloaded everything out here, and now it’s uphill loading everything out. How does that happen? Isn’t that a violation of the laws of the Universe, or something?”
“Theatre warps space and time,” I replied, wiping my stinging eyes with my shirt, sucking in hot air. “It’s been three long months. But now that were moving stuff out, it seems like we put it all up only yesterday.”
The large TV screens on either side of the Hollywood Bowl’s stage came on to air a taped statement by Jacques Heim, the artistic director of Diavolo Dance Theatre.
“Ze idea of ze piece,” said Jacques, “izz zat we are moving away from ze cubed, angled, sharp world and moving to ze…ah…curved, liquid and spiritual world. Zat izz Humanity’s next leap. To embrace wholly ze unknown, ze spiritual.”
Only the center of the stage was lit. It floated in the quiet blackness. The orchestra began playing the score by the repetitive minimalist Glass. The cadence had a curious effect on my brain, cutting out the rest of LA, even Karen and everybody else attending the show. Way up there in section X, it was only me.
One by one, the dancers crawled out of a perpendicular, clear plastic tube, located at stage-left. They then reconvened at center-stage, around an oval-shaped orb covered with many holes resembling a giant, slightly melted glob of Swiss cheese. The dancers danced around it with caution. But their curiosity was stronger, and the dancers couldn’t help but get close to the orb, touch it, crawl on it. Suddenly, a dancer was sucked into one of the holes of the orb. The other dancers danced real scared-like, but one by one – as if compelled to do so – they danced toward the holes, and one by one they were sucked in. For a moment, the droning music played to a stage devoid of Humanity…
On Wednesday, I went to a cafe I like to frequent on Vine Street. I thought it would be my last time to visit it before I left. There I ran into my buddy, M, who was homeless. I hadn’t seen M for a few weeks and had begun to fear the worst. But there he was, in a clean shirt, smiling.
“I been real good,” said M. “I gotta job. But it’s down further west so I just find a place near there when I get off, to sleep. A guy offered me a job in Hollywood, but they’re big on personal hygiene and I can’t get to a shower before the shift starts. But it’s all good. I get my first VA check next week and my food stamps, and I’m on two housing lists, so…”
“Man, I been dreaming so much,” said Usef, an old, bald, all-night Persian cab driver whose bluetooth was always wrapped around his ear as if it were permanently screwed into his skull. The three of us drank coffee at a table on the sidewalk. “I tell you, I haven’t dreamed in twenty years, man. Now, all the time when I get off work in the morning, I dream. Nothing strange, just something like I’m telling my cousin or brothers something funny and they laugh. Then I wake up.” Usef laughed. “Stupid stuff. But I hope I keep having the dreams.”
I gave Usef and M my own fare-thee-wells with a little bit of but when?
“Hey,” shouted M as I walked away, “say hello to all my ex’s in Texas for me, ha, ha!”
That evening, I took the subway to North Hollywood and then the 183 bus down Magnolia Boulevard. Magnolia is a long straight road that traverses most of The Valley. I stared out the window, at the endless sprawl of apartment complexes along either side of the street. The heat came in through the window but the other side of my face was cold from the air-conditioning in the bus. Plump, pleasant ladies chatted away in Spanish, laughing heartily at something as I pressed my head to the window, daydreaming deep into the wide, flat sprawl of The Valley as it was slowly and steadily subdued by longer and longer suburban shadows. The view out the window could’ve be anywhere in the U.S. – Grand Junction, Colorado, way out by the Interstate; Sioux Falls, South Dakota somewhere out by the Indian casino; or basically anywhere in and around Orlando, Florida.
“Last stop, man,” shouted the bus driver. We were at the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda Boulevards. All the plump ladies were gone, I was the only one on the bus. Space and time was dancing and bending again…
The giant ball of Swiss cheese began to open. Inside, the dancers danced to figure out where the hell they were. They writhed about, scared and fascinated with a desire to…what? I don’t know, but I didn’t need to. Whatever they desired, the dancers owned it in their bones and emotion came forth from their moves and that was good enough for me. The dancers were incredibly strong – lifting, tossing, throwing each other. One misstep could have meant serious injury. But they kept at it, gyrating inside the orb, hoping to comprehend it in some way. The music and movement escalated until suddenly, only a lone female dancer graced the stage. The music stopped, then came in low but fierce and the woman jerked from side to side, jumped, crouched, searched, searched, searched. Then she did something I’d never seen before. After arching backward and balancing on her feet and hands, she lifted her hands, balancing only on her feet, and held the position. From all the way where I was, I could see her leg muscles twitching, her face grimmacing. Then, she straightened from that position, and danced as if she’d found Something. The rest of the dancers came out with the plastic tube. The orb began to close over the dancers. The woman crawled into the tube. The dancers then thrust both tube and woman through one of the holes just as the orb closed.The woman climbed out of edge of the tube and reached as far out as she could out into space, her eyes peering into the dark, beautiful unknown. Then blackout, end of show.
As I sat in Karen’s kitchen Friday morning, drinking coffee, the dancers still danced around in my head. There they were, scurrying around that porous orb, not running away, or to, or in or out, but through…Something. But after my second cup, I swept them off my mind and got dressed. I was staying at Karen’s place in return for a little handy-man work and I needed to work finish up some things before I could go a Zen House in Central LA to meditate that evening. I’m not Buddhist. But I am curious.