You never know when you're going to run into art. You could be just walking around when WHAM! Art! Yep, you could be just walking around, say, the Balboa Peninsula, and there they'd be, six women in painters' pants, dancing in the middle of the street on and around two Bobcat bulldozers and three aluminum ladders a few doors down from the House of Jerky.
It happened May 22 at a groundbreaking ceremony for the soon-to-be renovated Bay Theater in Balboa. There, in front of what will one day be a 350-seat venue for the performing arts, Karin Jensen and Marica Pendjer premiered their Bulldozer Ballet,a six-minute piece believed to be the largest mixed-media work of its kind since Agnes DeMille's pioneering work with skip loaders in the early 1960s.
The piece was performed in front of city dignitaries, theater patrons, numerous TV and newspaper cameras, and a curious public whose reaction ranged from, "What the . . . ?" to . . .
Actually, that was pretty much everyone's reaction. Performed by six members of the Mandala DanceWorks, featuring guest soloist Trevor Kean and Dieter Kulbe of American Demolition/ Concrete Cutting, the ballet was billed as a "symbol of the partnership of construction and art." And indeed, that symbolism is strong around these parts. Why it wasn't that long ago that Costa Mesa's Mesa Theater partnered so intensely with the construction industry that it was symbolized into a chain bookstore.
Introduced by Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau, the principals took their places inside a roped-off square of asphalt. The women were in the aforementioned pants and black tank tops; Kean and Kulbe outfitted in blue-collar shirts with their names on them, blue work pants, and a pair of Bobcat Turbo 863s—the Swiss Army knife of the construction industry.
Bulldozer began slowly, with two women performing atop the silent dozers in front of the men. From there, the entire company joined in on the asphalt in various geometric shapes and holds, soon moving to the tops of the ladders where they performed what appeared to be the Australian crawl. As they did, the Bobcats remained silent, with Kean sullen and Kulbe chewing gum and avoiding eye contact.
Then, to the building strains of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana,the Bobcats' engines finally turned over. They performed several passes and then came together, buckets aloft, in a symbol of peace, celebration and the ability to carry large amounts of dirt.
Both Kean and Kulbe are veterans, Kulbe having driven a Bobcat for 25 years and Kean having been behind the wheel of one while growing up in Yorba Linda, where his father owned a construction company.
The pair practiced three times with the dancers; with the exception of the time they crashed into each other, everything went fine. Kean and Kulbe were so good—effortlessly twirling and popping wheelies—they made it seem simple. The good feeling was dispelled for one frightening moment when Kulbe seemed to lose control of his machine coming out of a twirl. He careened ever so slightly toward a dancer but quickly righted himself and the piece—a good thing since, as Balanchine discovered to his consternation, nothing ruins a performance's flow like a decapitated dancer.
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At Bulldozer's conclusion, the women jumped atop the dozers with enough vim and passion to make any Earth Firster proud. It ended to enthusiastic applause, which continued as the dancers, Kean and Kulbe took their bows—the two construction workers appearing as comfortable as two construction workers could look in a modern-dance lineup. Kean's intensely rigid body language suggested he might snap in half at the waist if forced to bow. He nodded his head.
Neither ruled out performing in a similar piece in the future.
"Hey, if the money's good," said Kulbe, while Kean muttered something inaudible and laughed nervously.
Dancing in mixed media—hat racks, E-Z Drill Horizontal 210-B Slab Riders, chairs—is, of course, big these days, having grown from original explorations by the likes of Hollywood's Fred Astaire and Pasadena's Doo Dah Parade. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Kean's most recent work was on a piece commissioned in Pasadena, one he described as, "We tore down a self-storage yard."