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PERFORMANCE ART REVIEW : Joyce Wexler-Ballard at Santa Monica Beach

Contemporary Angst is the stuff of which much performance art is made--urban ritual, the battle of the sexes, prejudice and alienation. Performed at Santa Monica Beach on Saturday, Joyce Wexler-Ballard’s site-specific “Line Down the Middle: An L.A. Travelogue” was no exception.

While there were eloquent moments of spoken verse and minimalist stage pictures, “Line Down the Middle” did not cohere.

Wexler-Ballard failed to command the big picture: Gestures, choreography and multiple focuses worked against one another, and the dozen performers seemed each to be off in their own worlds, giving the work an unduly amateurish feel.

Three hibachi grills rested in the sand stage area between the two sculpted concrete “performance platforms” adjacent to the promenade, near Ocean Park Boulevard. Between the grills and the platforms, a woman sat in a beach chair with a purple umbrella, a platter of oranges and a microphone near at hand, looking like a refugee from a Robert Wilson tableau. Unfortunately, what followed was not as pithy, but was equally mired in dated eclecticism.

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Women and men graced the platforms, striking melodramatic gestural poses to a sound track of oblique narratives of personal woe and social injustice. A drill team of women in sun togs carrying beach mats executed simple rituals in the space between the platforms, while three men clothed in white and holding oversized toothbrushes stood in the distance--so far away, in fact, that it wasn’t immediately clear whether they were intended to be taken as part of the spectacle.

An errant barbecue chef wearing a red-checkered apron and wielding tongs, desperately seeking someone whose name he couldn’t remember, appeared in the midst of all this, providing comic relief from otherwise obtuse action. Other welcomed (if random and unplanned) distractions emanated from the nearby food stand: “Number 6, your hamburger is ready.”

The event, the third in the Santa Monica Arts Festival series, was co-produced by the Santa Monica Arts Commission and the Cactus Foundation.


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