This is what reopening looks like at the Music Center in DTLA: joyful dancing

Dormeshia dances as part of the "Super Villainz" show outdoors on the Music Center plaza.
Dormeshia dances as part of the “Super Villainz” show over the holiday weekend, when the Music Center hosted its first live performance after 14 months of pandemic closures.
(John McCoy / The Music Center)

About halfway through a tap dance performance on the Music Center plaza in downtown Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power building behind the outdoor stage lights up like a lantern. Each empty office, blazing electric orange, is a reminder of how the city’s core hollowed out during the pandemic.

On this Sunday night, however, the Music Center stages its cautious return to live performance with its fifth and final Dance at Dusk show featuring queen of tap Dormeshia. “The Super Villainz: A Tap Dance Act for the Modern Age” awakens L.A.’s cultural nerve center, which crackles with energy.

About 150 audience members sit in 39 pods, each with up to four people. The pods are staggered in taped-off yellow squares across the plaza. A bottle of water has been placed by each metal folding chair, and no other refreshments are allowed or provided. This last part doesn’t seem to bother the audience, most of whom appear content just being there — in a public space, surrounded by others, experiencing a live performance after a 14-month pandemic-induced drought.


Women sit in metal folding chairs on the Music Center plaza.
A socially distanced audience took in a live dance performance on the Music Center Plaza in May 2021.
(John McCoy / The Music Center)

Before the dancing begins, a recorded voice greets the audience and explains the safety protocols. Cheers and hollers ring out. Signs encourage audience members to text “dance” to 55741 to receive a program on their device.

The performance is a joyful eruption of movement and sound, punctuated by the rhythmic tippity-tap-tap of amplified metal-soled shoes against the propulsive tempo of a live jazz quartet. Dormeshia, Jason Samuels Smith and Derick K. Grant electrify the crowd with jaw-dropping, complex footwork that looks impossibly effortless.

The socially distanced nature of the performances — with echoes of the May reopening of the Hollywood Bowl, which welcomed 4,000 audience members in its 17,500-seat venue — is poised to be an anachronism as low infection rates vault the state toward Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed full reopening by June 15.

But for this moment in time, as a weary public takes its first tentative steps back to collective interaction, the familiar safeguards feel just right. Masks are worn onto the plaza and taken off without fear as audience members chat with their pod mates, sip water and crane their necks to observe the unfamiliar social scene.

Smiles warm faces used to being covered in cloth. Children giggle and bounce, couples wrap arms around each other. Conversation bubbles and laughter rings out — each welcome sound providing confirmation that life is moving on and the city is opening up.


The Super Villainz dance on a lighted stage with the DWP Building as a backdrop.
The Super Villainz, a tap dance act for the modern age, performed at the Music Center in May 2021.
(John McCoy / The Music Center)

As the sun kisses the buildings on the western horizon, the city blushes bright pink. The color fades to gentle black as night makes its entrance. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the left, its decadent chandeliers dripping light, awaits its debut Sunday when Los Angeles Opera returns inside for “Oedipus Rex.”

The Mark Taper Forum’s curves are bathed in shadow to the right, and the Ahmanson peeks out from around the corner. City Hall stands at attention behind it all, silently observing the action.