Glass House Is a Dance of Drama and Domesticity

LOS ANGELES — When I heard that the latest performance from dance collective Volta was going to explore the subject of home, I thought it would be about a global sense of place. Glass House, a four-show run presented by family-operated gallery Central Server Works, is a collaboration with Nigerian sculptor and filmmaker Gbenga Komolafe, Japanese-American saxophonist and composer Patrick Shiroishi, and writers Sammy Loren and Zoey Greenwald — Loren having spent considerable time in Mexico. Despite this international lineup, Glass House was an intimate and somewhat uncomfortable dive into a much more domestic conception of home. Home as family, home as safety. The kind of home therapists are interested in. 

Upstairs at G-Son Studios in Atwater Village — a storied creative hub where the Beastie Boys recorded and rehearsed — I was surrounded by walls draped in a royal blue velvet. Dancers inhabited three of Komolafe’s life-size multimedia sculptures — cuddling on top of a bed of what looked like live earth opposite an overflowing bathtub in a small pond with flecks of copper. Two bodies clutched one another inside the tub, while multiple more clawed around within a wooden scaffolding clad in sheer fabric — a mirror angled strategically behind. I was invited to move the dirt, toss a penny in the pond, and tear at the sheer fabric while the dancers wove around me, to leave my mark in this temporary home as the true performance began to take shape and I was guided to my seat.

Six other dancers joined Volta director Mamie Green onstage. The choreography mimicked a domestic squabble in slow motion, evoking the stages of a family feud. Factions formed and changed over time. At one point, a dancer slinked to the floor between two others facing off — exactly the way I would want to when caught in an argument’s crossfire. The dancers’ flurries were guided by a narrator moving between them, conjuring a diary-like tale reminiscent of a Bret Easton Ellis character: wealthy but tortured, frustrated by a house that is not a home and a family whose love is tainted but desired all the same. 

Shiroishis’s composition filled the space with sound recordings of home — muffled conversations, the distinct click of an iPhone keyboard in a quiet room — in conversation with his live saxophone accompaniment. His musical style was both visceral and melodic, varying from drone-like to romantic to whispered. 

The dance collective’s signature corporeal style lends itself well to the subjects of home and intimacy — not meant to just look pretty, this is movement the audience can feel. Intentional choreography highlights the need for spatial awareness, synchronized movements at asynchronous times, and the battle between inner truth and external expectations. Volta’s dancers carried one another the way we ourselves shoulder our friends, lovers, and family — occasionally laboriously — as we build our homes: sometimes dragging them, sometimes exalting them.

Parts of the work felt like an elaborate game of musical chairs, even down to the prop choice of metal folding chairs in elementary school greige. But what is musical chairs about other than finding a home? The game, and the performance, are about locating a place to fit in so as not be left out — a space that you sometimes have to fight for. Casting stones at dirty glass lets the light in.

Glass House performs at G-Son Studios (3218 Glendale Boulevard, Atwater Village, Los Angeles) March 1–3. The performance is a collaboration between Volta and Central Server Works. 

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