Malibu tango on Carbon Beach

It is not a secret that many beachfront homeowners in Malibu have a disproportionate sense of ownership of the surf and turf that fronts their properties. They pay millions for the illusion that they own the beach.

It’s also not a secret that they don’t.

So, the battle between some small-hearted residents and the determined beach-going public persists, with all sorts of cross accusations and bad feelings.

I’d blocked all of that from my mind on a recent weekend afternoon, when I dragged my reluctant 13-year-old daughter to a dance performance by CalArts’ dance program dean ” style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>View Larger Map

Rachel and I joined our group just at the conclusion of an introduction to public beach rights by Jenny Price, a ” title=”Los Angeles Urban Rangers”>Los Angeles Urban Rangers, you can figure out how to set yourself up for a nice beach day, lawfully.

If you can stand the neighbors.

Still, on this day neither Price’s talk nor the bullying were the main attraction. Quickly, they became backdrops for what turned out to be a bit of magic.

Koplowitz, who has devoted his career to using dance to transform how we see the world around us, was in the midst of presenting a full week of free programs at water-side sites throughout L.A. With the eye of a New Yorker, these new works pointed us to look beyond the obvious Los Angeles landmarks to experience a fundamental determinant for the region’s character — how we use, share, experience and get our water. Among the sites his dancers performed at were the downtown Watercourt at California Plaza, the Port of Los Angeles and several stops along the L.A. River.

On this day, his eight-member Taskforce dance troupe — extremely beautiful, athletic young performers — had the “task” of “taking back the beach.” Through what he calls “structured improvisational dance” that encompasses both classical form and playful everyday posturing, the dancers acted out reading, sandcastle-building, playing ball, swimming and hanging out, all on newly public easements that only recently have been restored as public lands.

The performance flew by and ended with the dancers playing in the ocean. And as they performed, the day’s tension and hostilities dissipated. The walkers stopped; the partyers set down their drinks and stood rapt on the edge of their decks to watch. Though the rap music thundered on, time stopped. Everyone was enchanted, and for those few moments, we were as one.

A couple of strollers stopped next to Rachel and asked her what it was all about. Briefly, she stopped pretending to be a bored teen and explained that these dancers had come here as part of an art piece. As she talked, I could tell she’d taken to heart the politics of the moment and also the cultural significance of all that was happening.

And as they talked, I thought of how art can be a healing force. How music can calm. A painting can transport. A good book can distract us from our troubles. And an extraordinary piece of dance, like Koplowitz’s clean, structured yet interwoven narrative work, can sear through an angry crowd. How a shared experience of beauty can diffuse tempers.

Koplowitz, for a moment, achieved a truce by making the beachgoers, all of us, his audience. And the site became his stage — it was no longer theirs, ours or none of the above.

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For more information about Steve Koplowitz and Task Force, go to: