As darkness falls and bats flap over a terrace set into the wild nature of Malibu’s Point Dume, choreographer Jacob Jonas reads out this poetic fragment to the busy dinner table. It is the textual coda to ‘At Work,’ a dance piece performed by Jacob Jonas The Company of which we had all just witnessed a full-spirited rehearsal.
A very special performance event took place a few days later to ‘activate’ a sizeable artwork by local artist Brigitte D’Annibale, made of piles of lumber salvaged from the demolition of the former structure on the site. This is all part of an ambitious makeover project in which D’Annibale stripped bare an entire one-acre plot, transforming it into a mountaintop art retreat to showcase her immersive installation ‘B= F (P,E) - ‘Behaviour is a Function of a Person in their Environment.’
Founded in 2014, The Jacob Jonas Company today draws upon a pool of 50 diverse dancers and employs 9 of them for the performance of ‘At Work.' Outfitted uniformly in simple workwear, each member of the ensemble is incredibly active for the whole one-hour duration of the piece. Their interactions fly from tender nuance to fierce aggression, fast and furious they covered ground from the top of the lumber pile to a neon-lit plateau in front of it. In the dynamic and confronting session, long shadows played on the patchwork of plywood panels recycled from the former residence that now form a tapestry of contrasts on the frontage of the main structure. Jonas deliberately designs his choreography to highlight what the bodies of his highly trained cadre can achieve: “A lot of the work that I do is athletic and explosive. I find dance interesting, similar to sports, in that people go to watch sports not only do they want their team to win, but they admire the athleticism. So for me when I make work, I want there to be that element of explosivity but also something narrative and human.”
Both Jona’s explosive expression and D’Annibale’s calm mountaintop haven came into being as a result of the global turmoil that began in 2020, and the several years of frustrating nullity and enforced stasis that followed. Both sought to deal with this frustration by channeling it through their art. Jonas explains: “I started creating ‘At Work' during the pandemic when everything was shut down, all the theatres were shut down, and most people were not working, with the exception of essential workers. And a lot of our dancers were really just needing to create and to be in community. So we started getting together at the Sepulveda Dam, because that was the only place that was open, And we started building this piece. And the result was the desire just to be ‘At Work’ when everything was closed.”
D’Annibale is also all about building community. After time spent in Hawaii and Indonesia, the L.A. native returned to California in 2017. In November 2018, the tragic Woolsey fire jumped from forest over the highway and made it all the way down to the Pacific Coast’s hallowed surfline, violently relandscaping much of the terrain. With the aftermath of this devastation all around her, she plunged into her artistic and architectural work, and out of the ashes came a sustainable, thoughtful redevelopment that speaks to the fiery process of its creation. The site-specific ‘B= F (P,E)’ installation was conceptualized and built over an intense 6-month period in 2022, with the dedicated space opening in February 2023 during Frieze LA. Since then, over 400 persons have made the trek up to experience the work, with all site visits conducted by Brigitte herself. For October 2023, Jonas and his troupe were invited to spend time on the mountain and to further energetically ‘activate’ the space with a stirring dance performance. But Brigitte wants to make clear, “It’s not a stage, I’m not a set designer, it’s not a backdrop. It’s an immersive installation that resonated with Jacob, and so he has activated this installation and the environment around it. It’s about a connection, it's about artists coming together.”
Jonas was ideally placed to temporally shift operations to D’Annibale’s airy ocean-side compound. Raised in Santa Monica, the teenage Venice Beach skater boy’s need for an athletic outlet segued into a passion for street tumbling, and then led on to his now stellar career in interdisciplinary dance. In the subsequent years, Jonas and his JJTC team have worked hard to broaden traditional viewership of the medium and bring it into the wider community, as well as collaborating with stars and brands of the caliber of Elton John, Britney Spears, Sia, Rosalia, GAP, Gucci and Jonathan Simkai. On this, he notes, “I think the powerful thing about being an artist in any capacity is the relationship you have with other people. Especially with the performing arts, it is a necessity to have collaborators. So much of the result that people see is just a very small percentage of the process, and the fulfillment is of the making and authoring of the work. So the deepest fulfillment is working with good people, the deepest fulfillment comes from building relationships with people.” In all projects they take on, JJTC strives to create socially relevant works and to make dance a more visible and valued art form in today’s world; in D’Annibale he has found a kindred soul.
Because everything that she creates, Brigitte tells me while sitting in her sunken conversation pit made of packed earth infused with concrete, is consciously encoded with certain elements to ensure they are equally “socially complex and emotionally layered.” In front of us is a burbling water feature made from a gargantuan artisan-carved 4000-pound hollowed-out stone; looking up at the night sky through the custom-forged steel oculus, the effect is of a soulful personal observatory. A 3000-pound glass door spins on a dime at the entrance to the structure, and alabaster-toned concrete ‘cloud’ steps lead to a lower level with a garden overlooking peaks lush and green after this year’s abundant rainfall. All is in a soft Zen palette of natural wood, raw pebbles and rocks, pale cement, punctuated by curated banks of foliage. Her illuminated letter-form globes ‘lanterns’ glow above, casting intricate shadows that also raise questions about language and further coding this as a philosophical, contemplative space. D’Annibale had earlier welcomed us into the domestic domain she created on another plot of land nearby, also a site of renewal and repurposing of materials with a focus on harmony with nature. ‘This was all a burn-out lot,’ explained Brigitte, surveying the art studio and her home, a sparse, neutral-toned minimalist paradise. “That was a falling-down house. And I had no place to live because I had just moved here, and I couldn’t renovate it because everything was shut down. And so I built the studio, these structures, from shipping containers.” Works in progress include several paintings, mixed-media pieces where daub-spattered drop cloths drape over distressed mirror panels, sculptures such as fluid carvings of ficus tree trunks from Ubud, Indonesia, and many more of her signature letter-form globes.
No matter where on the properties we are, Brigitte is full of praise for her newfound collaborator, who was introduced via a mutual art world friend. “Myself and Jacob connected around humanity and making art that moves the human spirit. We do it in different ways, but we complement each other.” She continues. “A through-line in my practice is finding potential. I always use humble materials that aren’t traditional art materials. It’s also with my team, it’s about finding the potential in people and building these communities in cultures over many years, whether it’s Indonesia or Hawaii or here. I think that Jacob, unlike a lot of interdisciplinary artists, who are just about their own practices, he’s a leader, and the design and architectural part of my practice is very much about working with teams. I think that is another thing that we just connect on, bringing people along with us is part of the vision.” Jonas is in total agreement. “There’s not a desire to like, meet millions of artists. The desire is to meet a few and build really strong relationships with them.” And watch this space Los Angeles, because the choreographer and creative director sees a lot more to come: “I think this is just an icebreaker now of the potential of what we’re going to do together in the future, which is very exciting to me. It’s really inspiring to see the ambition Brigitte has, and what she and her team have been able to accomplish. I think it’s about being like-minded from a personality standpoint, of having a similar vision of how we want to disrupt the arts and play with different ways of building community, especially in L.A.”
Director | Choreographer Jacob Jonas
Composed and Conducted by Steve Hackman
Original Cast Hvrmony Adams, Tal Barnston, James “Jstylz” Blackston, Chandler Davids, Emma Rosenzweig-Bock, Maxwell Simoes, Layne Willis, Jill Wilson
Recycled Uniform Ware Provided By Mission Linen. 60 minutes duration.
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