'Laundromatinee' Puts Yupdom in a Spin

Empty the stash of quarters, grab the Tide and come on down to an orange-and-yellow mecca of shiny GEs, wayward socks and the ever-accommodating dollar changer.

But leave your grungy 'jammies in the hamper at home. Because instead of the usual self-service laundry routine, you're here to watch a dance fantasia on the fabric-softened half-shell: a capful of whimsy that's a cross between Fellini and '50s TV variety.

Spinning and twirling in, out of and about rows of washers and dryers are the seven women of Collage Dance Theatre's "Laundromatinee."

It was performed free for rapt overflow crowds at the Thrifty Wash at 10th and Montana in Santa Monica over the past two days, thanks to funding from the Santa Monica Arts Commission.

"I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning," Tommy Roe's recorded voice chimes, as several washing machines chug-a-chug along and the 12-minute performance begins with dancers appearing to pop right up out of the machines. Later on, Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" backs up a kick line of arch Everyhausfraus.

The dancers frolic and strain while shedding layers of dresses as they trip through the gestural choreography of four increasingly contemporary numbers.

But this is a kitschy dreamscape with a more serious agenda than the relative merits of Cheer or Biz, according to Collage artistic director Heidi Duckler.

As the first entry in her Urban Extinction Series, Duckler's project employs site-specific dance to call attention to "endangered species" within the city and the effect of gentrification.

"I wanted to focus on places and life styles before they disappear," she says of her choice to choreograph, rehearse and present in the great leveler that is the self-service laundry. 'It's such a basic place. We all have to wash our clothes. In fact, washing itself is basic: We wash ourselves."

And it's this communal tradition that Duckler believes is the greatest loss caused by urban redevelopment. "The Laundromat is such a great meeting place. I remember leaving home and going to the Laundromat and feeling so responsible. But now more washers are going into buildings and the rents are becoming so high," she says, "and that's why Laundromats are becoming extinct."

But Duckler also says there is a reason for the restructuring: "It brings in shoppers and changes the community. It's nice that it brings the money into the neighborhood, but you get something and you also lose something."

That something, according to Duckler, is individuality. "As places go upscale, they lose a lot of their personality. When we go to a motel now, we look for a Holiday Inn. You know you can rely on it. Ma-and-pa grocery stores are gone."

The area near the Thrifty is a prime example of the renovation Duckler is talking about. "Montana, in particular, is becoming full of boutiques," she says. "The rents (are getting) so high that businesses like the Laundromat can't afford to stay."

Duckler even sees this gradual transformation as typical of a countrywide trend. "I always wanted to write a book called 'The Boutiquing of America,' " she says to illustrate her distaste for such homogenization.

Part of Duckler's way of redressing this has been to savor the laundro-lore she's accumulated over the six weeks she and her troupe have been rehearsing. "Once you start getting into something, you find out all kinds of things associated with it that you weren't even aware of."

She was unaware, for example, of the 18-year-old Huntington Park man who died Nov. 18 shortly after being found inside a textile dryer and whose co-worker was arrested on suspicion of murder.

But such violent incidents notwithstanding, Duckler's new awareness has been encouraging. She eagerly learned, for example, of other artists before Collage who have gravitated to this same venue.

"The owner of the Laundromat said to me: 'You know, you're not the first,' " Duckler recounts. "He'd had a performance artist come in, a man in a tuxedo who pretended it was a very upscale restaurant, seating people and asking: 'Which one would you like?' and so on."

"He also told me about another time he had a man and a woman come in and take off all their clothes and put them in the washer. He said: 'I had to pick them up and throw 'em out.' "

Duckler is convinced that artists can and ought to fight the adverse effects of yuppification as well as other problems, such as the limited number of places where artists can perform.

"People complaining about the lack of venues in this city are absolutely correct. It's a terrible situation. But people complain too much.

"Go out there and dance. Anywhere."

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