Alison O’Daniel: Centennial Marching Band Forwards, Backwards, Pause Silent
Presented by Art Los Angeles Contemporary & JOAN
The Barker Hangar, 3021 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica CA 90405
January 28, 2016
Into the lobby of Art Los Angeles Contemporary a trail of majorettes quietly entered. A sea of glimmering red costumes dispersed amongst the crowd with practice notes while murmured conversation emitted from the scattered marching band. Once finally settled in the center of the room with booming base drums, brass timbre, and choreographed batons, the audience cohered around the sonic vision of Alison O’Daniel’s Centennial Marching Band Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent.
O’Daniel’s collaborative work with Centennial High School’s (Compton, CA) marching band was performed as a real time de/constructed auditory evocation. Using the band’s marching formations, pace, and flow, O’Daniel weaved the band throughout the interior/exterior space of the Barker Hangar. Tight line formations extended down the gallery floor with protracted silences and minimal movement. The sudden eruption of tubas and trombones would beautifully disrupt these calms, corporally and sonically reimagining the use of the gallery. The inescapability of the space and sound, entangled with the seemingly spontaneity at which it occurred, shifted the marching band as a knowable and distant observational act into a type of liminal material reckoning. For the crowds of onlookers, the marching band compelled a participatory response in which one found themselves as a willful audience member and/or captive spectator, always as a constituent of the performance. In this, Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent worked as a contestation, not merely of the gallery dimensions, but of how the performative is an ever-shifting scape.
In part, what makes O’Daniel’s project so rousing is the deliberate inclusion of young people of color as both subject and collaborator. In the contestation of space via sound and physicality was the irrefutable materiality of the very bodies performing, offering ever-new visions of performative environments as radical engagements with the known world. Each moment of Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent was a liminal offering of sound to corporality, of performer to audience, of liveness to linear senses of time.
In the exterior of the gallery the drum major’s whistle pierced with rhythmic commands and the majorettes responded with synchronized kicks, twirls, and the splits. Crowds pressed against the glass door as others gazed upwards from deck tables, entranced by the veracity of sound and dance. The Centennial High fight song was shouted from the drum major, and as the band performed and the majorettes cheered, we saw the major lean back, baton in hand forming a perfect and complete arch with his body. Inside the gallery the band members would separate brass, wood, drum, and majorette; soloing and swaying as a singular form. As the band winded down each corridor we, the audience, followed, pausing when they stopped, dancing when they played, photographing and applauding at the mastery of it all.
Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent is part of O’Daniel’s ongoing project The Tuba Thieves: a cinematic and sculptural response to a wave of tuba thefts in the Los Angeles area schools. The project is a multi-dimensional, nonlinear collage of independent music performance, anecdotes, re-enactments of the thefts, and scripted narrative. O’Daniel smartly posits Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent within this now years-long series, expanding her query of aural space and performative possibilities with the live performances of the marching band.
 For a video recording see https://vimeo.com/153587381. Art Los Angeles Contemporary Opening Night, The Barker Hangar, Santa Monica January 28, 2016, Video by Devin McNulty/Art Los Angeles Contemporary