The collective brings modern dance to the Museum of Neon Art

By Bridgette M. Redman

Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

NOTeon lights have stories to tell, stories that can be both physical and historical.

The stories of California’s retired neon signs have inspired a site-specific immersive dance concert, “In Liquid Light,” to be performed Thursday, March 3 through Sunday, March 6 at the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale.

Volta Collective founders and directors Mamie Green and Megan Paradowski said the donated space and panels inspired them. The Volta Collective is a modern dance company that pursues multidisciplinary approaches to its art.

“Volta is really about bringing contemporary dance to non-traditional spaces,” Paradowski said. “When we saw how the space looked, we were pretty quick to jump on it.”

After touring the museum and talking with the director, Corrie Siegel, they realized it was a great place to use dance to tell the stories of the signs.

“We are honored to present this work from Volta,” said Siegel. “Their sensitivity to space, history and community anchored this project, and the stories brought by community members provide a new context for our collection. This performance brings a new level of embodiment to the stories that signs and our bodies can tell.

What kinds of stories are told?

Examples include

• Artist and filmmaker Rachel Mason talks about the sign that guided a generation of gay men to her parents’ bookstore, Circus of Books.

• Los Angeles environmentalist Celeste Hong, granddaughter of Los Angeles Chinatown pioneer and co-founder YC Hong, shares the story of exclusion that led to the formation of New Chinatown.

• Sign historians Dydia Delyser and Eric Lynxwiler who discuss the meaning of neon technology and what curators are risking to save these treasures.

• Longtime Billy’s Deli customer Mia Kuwada talks about her favorite waitress.

• Maryam Hosseinzadeh uses a sign advertising the Pasadena Rug Mart to draw a line between her Iranian-American family and Armenian Genocide survivors.

Green and Paradowski called for stories about the signs and collected the oral histories that will compose the soundscape to which the seven dancers of the Volta Collective will dance. They asked people to record themselves talking and gave them free rein as to format and content in relation to the signs they are linked to.

“We got all kinds of information,” Green said. “There were poems that people sent in interview-style dialogue.”

Green and Paradowski then shared the stories with their dancers to create movement and material loosely and abstractly based on the stories. The dancers, in addition to Green and Paradowski, are Allie Milks, Melody Morrow, Win McCain and Ashley Kayombo.

“Each of the dancers, with our guidance, interpreted the words into their own movement styles,” Green said.

They worked with sound architect Nicolas Snyder, who brought together the oral histories with recordings from MONA Galleries and the Electrical Lab. It amplified the clicks of mechanical sign animators and the hum of electricity running through vintage neon signs.

“He’s taking the sound clips and is creating a sound score, a soundtrack for the piece we’re creating,” Green said. “It will include these speech audio clips, so you’ll hear them in space, you’ll see the dance versus the signs. It’s abstract and contemporary dance, but you’ll see the connections.

In addition to oral histories, the shape and sounds of signs contributed to the dance.

“When you’re in the space, you can hear the vibrations of the panels being lit, so there’s this sort of natural rhythm in the space,” Paradowski said. “Sounds are really related to movement. We kind of communicated that to our dancers. We showed them pictures of the panels and so we can adapt the panel to our body.

Carol Young designs and donates the costumes.

“It’s these really beautiful textured materials that she created,” Paradowski said. “We’re really excited to have him as part of the play. We think the costumes are works of art themselves and will add a lot to the presentation.

The public will follow the dancers through the museum in a 25-minute show. Outside, dancers will perform for guests as they arrive. A DJ will perform and refreshments will be served at the end of the tour.

The dancers will rehearse the show for groups which will be limited to 20 people. The design will give audience members an intimate experience and then give them a chance to interact with each other at the end.

“Think of it as a guided tour,” Green said. “The dancers are guides as well as part of the exhibition. They are artists and also art themselves.

Part of Volta Collective’s mission is to make contemporary dance accessible. That’s why they look for places other than the stages to perform. Two family shows will be presented at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Time is the main change they bring to the performance – all the moves and choreography are the same, as is the soundscape.

“We both teach kids a lot, so we think it’s really important to show this type of dance to younger audiences who might not otherwise be able to experience it,” Green said.

Museum of Neon Arts Director of Education Ben Weber is especially pleased that Volta is hosting a family exhibit.

“For me, experiencing art alongside young people amplifies its impact,” Weber said. “Young audiences bring a unique honesty and wisdom to any performance, and adults can experience a lot of a child’s interpretation of creative work.”

In addition to the morning performances, Volta Collective will feature discussion and hands-on activities, which Weber says marks the beginning of the museum’s long-term commitment to programming that appeals to all ages.

“In Liquid Light” emphasizes the connection. This created, Paradowski said, connections between their audience members, the people who donated the signs, and the businesses that closed or donated the signs.

“The project is able to connect on multiple levels in this way and over multiple timeframes,” Paradowski said.

“In Liquid Light” by Volta Connective

WHEN: Varied hours from Thursday March 3 to Sunday March 6

OR: The Museum of Neon Art, 216 S. Brand Boulevard, Glendale

COST: Tickets start at $10


About Carlos V. Mitchell

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