Entertainment & Arts

Review: Heidi Duckler weaves ‘Groundskeepers’ tale in empty hospital

 Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre
Heidi Duckler Dance Theater’s latest site-specific performance is “Groundskeepers” at Linda Vista Hospital. The multimedia work is set all around the hospital, including the outdoor fire escape, staircase, entryway, chapel, boiler room, and outdoor parking lot wall.
(Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

Sick of Obamacare overload?  Welcome, then, to Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s “The Groundskeepers,” where healthcare comes to beautifully moody, elegiac life. Running through Saturday, this new, seven-scene, two-hour work written by George Moreno and mounted by site-specific queen Duckler, who founded her troupe in 1985, animates Boyle Heights’ shuttered Linda Vista Hospital.

Built in 1904 for railroad workers, Charles Whittlesey’s massive structure closed in 1991 and will soon be converted into affordable housing. But, oh, what tales it tells, or at least those that Duckler, dancers and crew weave as audiences follow the action like concerned voyeurs. 

The performance begins outside, with viewers looking up at a fire escape that drips with decayed elegance (a ghoulish take on “West Side Story”). Six performers romp amid the ruins to Lu Kunene’s fusion score, prefaced by actor Jack Knight recalling his sad youth spent there as a patient.

PHOTOS: ‘The Groundskeepers’


The lobby scene has Lynn Conner-Smith recalling bloodied fingers and acute memory loss before onlookers saunter down a kitchen passage. Here, Andrew Byrom’s gothic typography (“I’m sorry,” and other narratives) gives little warning of the coming boiler room escapades.

Submerged in the hospital’s bowels, where the pungent smell of dust is near noxious and metal flakes intermittently fall like snow, an astonishing Marissa Labog and Nicholas Heitzeberg perform a pas de deux with pipes, eventually adding Anibal Sandoval to the ancient steam-system mix.  Wandering saxophonist Andrew Pask blows mournful riffs, while Grant Dunn’s evocative lighting vaults us into a “Twilight Zone” of reminiscences and “Meet me in the boiler room” becomes a euphemism for sex as told by Suzanna Guzmán in voice-over.

An elongated hallway (hello, “The Shining”), features Rawb Lambaren, Joe Schenck and Ja-Young Kim contorting and writhing. Molly Myers and Carlos Rodriguez longingly break-dance, kicking up dirt in an outside parking lot. But redemption arrives -- in the chapel -- as the eight lost souls unite for a farewell fling, Refik Anadol’s stunning projections adding texture.  

Duckler, tapping into our worst fears, unearths love, hope and the Beckettian will to go on, no matter that everything around us is crumbling.



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Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, “The Groundskeepers,” Linda Vista Hospital, 610 S. St. Louis St., L.A. 8 pm. Thursday-Saturday. $25. (818) 784-8669 or