Like many performance artists, the members of the Australian group Strange Fruit enact stories of love lost, won and longed for. They just do so, you could say, in a higher realm.
Specifically, they perform while swaying atop 13-foot-tall fiberglass poles. And today through Saturday, Angelenos will have an opportunity to witness their derring-do free of charge during a series of appearances at two outdoor sites downtown.
The sites, both owned by New York-based Brookfield Properties, are the Bank of America Plaza and 7+Fig. The performances are part of a program by the real estate corporation to support artists and at the same time enhance the appeal of its holdings.
“We presented Strange Fruit in New York a year ago, and it was remarkable,” Debra Simon, Brookfield Properties’ artistic director, said recently. “Hundreds of people whipped out their cellphones to take pictures to send to their colleagues to say, ‘Come down, you’ve got to see this.’ I anticipate the same thing happening in L.A. because it’s just so visually unusual.”
As troupe member George Filev put it: “We climb up the poles like monkeys. Once you’re up the pole, you need to be able to dance, act and be an acrobat as well while you’re on a stage that keeps moving -- if that makes sense.
“It’s a really beautiful sense of freedom and flying. You get to have a great vantage point because you’re up so high, feeling very fine.”
The inspiration for all this came in 1994, when the Melbourne-based company’s founder, Rod Poole, was sitting in a field watching wheat waving in the breeze and wondering “what it would be like to have people up on poles doing that kind of thing,” Filev said.
As it turned out, the company discovered that the poles, which range from 2 to 3 inches in diameter, had to be adjusted for each performer.
“You need to have the right weight and the right height for the right pole,” Filev said. “All that will affect the swing of it. In order for all of us to be in tempo, we need to have the same ratio, so that you can get the swing happening at the same time.
“We can definitely tell a story,” he added. “This show that we’re doing in L.A. is called ‘Swoon!’ and it’s about love. We have one section which is done to ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Puccini’s ‘Tosca.’ There’s a whole comic scene.”
Sometimes, though, the comedy is unintentional.
“I had birds fly almost at my face,” he said. “Yeah, a flock of pigeons that have come a bit too close.”
What did he do?
For this week’s performances, Brookfield Properties has teamed with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
But “this partnership is not unique,” said Cultural Affairs Executive Director Olga Garay. “It’s something that is increasingly being seen as the wave of the future -- bringing the best of what government has to offer and what the private sector has to offer in service to a community.
“This just seemed like a win-win situation, because it’s a way that we can increase resources to Los Angeles-based artists at no cost to the people of Los Angeles.”
The Brookfield program began in New York 20 years ago as a way to provide tenants with some entertainment while the World Financial Center was being built. It has since grown into one of the largest free year-round arts programs in the country, with events in Houston, Denver and Toronto as well as L.A..
The expansion here began in February with the opening of a gallery at the 7+Fig site, where two new installations are currently on display. (A music program, including jazz and blues, is also underway at both sites through Aug. 8.)
“What we’re looking to do in Los Angeles is help promote L.A.-based artists,” said Simon. “We’re presenting Australia’s Strange Fruit because they’re on a North American tour. But mostly we’re presenting L.A.-based artists in L.A.”
Future plans are uncertain, but Simon said she has been talking to local theater companies about creating some site-specific work.
“This is a real arts program in public spaces,” she said. “It’s a way we not only interact with our tenants but we create a community, and supporting artists is a very important part of that.”
Where: Bank of America Plaza, 333 S. Hope St., L.A.
When: 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. today; 11:30 a.m., 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: 7+Fig at Ernst & Young Plaza, 725 S. Figueroa St.
When: 11:30 a.m., 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Contact: (213) 955-7150 or www.7fig.com