REVIEW: Lionel Popkin’s ‘Inflatable Trio’ at the Skirball

Dance · Reviews

Do you feel like things are changing in ways that make you uneasy? That even our most familiar modes of operating—for example public civility … what political pundits refer to as “norms”—are in upheaval?

Choreographer Lionel Popkin has made a dance about this. His charming and successful “Inflatable Trio,” a fun hour-long dance pageant for three, premiered at the Skirball Cultural Center’s new Performance Lab series this weekend.

Popkin, who doubles as chair of the UCLA dance department, theatricalizes the conversation by use of a big metaphor – the familiar furniture of the family living room. There, these days, planted on grandma’s sofa many of us cower in abject terror of the nightly news. In a witty transformation, Popkin converts this inert set-up into something dynamic (that is, dancey) by use of a kooky yellow PVC blow-up couch. Throughout “Inflatable Trio,” this moveable object cuddles and cushions, frames and frustrates, gets kicked and battered, and hides and protects Popkin and two excellent cohorts, dancers Carolyn Hall and Samantha Mohr.

“Inflatable Trio” is powered by the use of human breath, not just in propping up the props, but in the sweet intimacy displayed between performers. The constant friendly touching, straight-forward human contact, with hands placed on fellow dancers’ body parts, permeates the work with a pleasing tactility, a sensitive closeness, a fleshiness, a grounding. A high moment has the threesome pulsating to a funky rhythm (among the hooks of Tom Lopez’s excellent soundscore). In a rocking, weight-shifting dance, the always-swapping hands connect the trio like an ever-tightening umbilical cord. Soon ‘connection’ and ‘intimacy’ cross the line into a crazy inescapable noose.

I was charmed by “Inflatable”’s many homely humors, the use of daily domestic sounds like the vacuum-cleaner din as furniture is inflated, and the fartatious blast on its deflation. Perhaps low-hanging fruit as a joke, but there it is — and I laughed at it. Popkin, whose stocky build is attired in what appears to be, appropriately, mauve polyester, ports a somewhat dazed, lost-in-space expression that is nicely offset by the clarity of his two partners. Both are excellent but Carolyn Hall’s crystalline dance technique and open expression lent the choreography particular immediacy.

The Skirball’s shallow shoebox space, viewed lengthwise, proved no particular challenge for the choreographer, although much of the pageant seemed to skew toward the audience-left side of the room. Yet another excellent dance evening at the Skirball, where superb prior outings by Tere O’Connor and the great Eiko and Komo linger as memories.  

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Georgeous & Rita-licious

Dance · Fashion · Featured · Film

As Oscar Sunday approaches, we turn to the year when two beautiful young singer/dancers both won Academy Awards for West Side Story.

George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respective winners for Best Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role, appeared stunningly beautiful at the ceremony 
April 9, 1962 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

This is Oscar fashion.

As Chakiris, a friend of arts·meme, points out, “We had to wear tails.” Young people: that means white tie and tuxedo tails.

The following year, the duo returned to the ceremony as award presenters. Moreno donned an Indian sari. How cool is that?

Class~! They look like silent movie stars — Valentino and his consort, Natasha Rambova.

Good fashion keeps you going!

Chakiris is set to share WSS tales with the young cast of Valley Performing Arts Center‘s West Side Story production, opening on March 10.

Moreno brings her one-woman show to the Musco Center for the Arts March 11.

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Choreographer Cherice Barton spreads happiness at VPAC

Dance · Featured

She’s part of a tribe of young dance makers who hop fluidly between entertainment hot-spots—Las Vegas, L.A.’s Staple Center, Broadway, and Hollywood. Clients include Katy Perry (at the Grammy Awards); George Lucas (in a Disney film); Spider-Man (vaulting above Broadway); and two darling daughters ages three and four. Relishing her return to the ballet world (now a leading commercial choreographer, she danced with the Alberta Ballet at 17), Cherice Barton joins an elite club—choreographers creating new works for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. For a theme, she’s been cogitating on a commodity both rare and elusive.

“What is happiness?” queries Barton in Eudaemonia, her first serious choreographic foray onto the concert stage. She addresses this essentially spiritual question with the tools of her trade, the human body. The eldest of three dancing sisters (Aszure and Charissa complete the trio), the Ontario-born, Edmonton-raised choreographer spoke by phone during her recent Aspen residency.

“Happiness is huge as a concept—and the universal search for happiness provides infinite layers to be explored,” she said with a tinge of solemnity.

is a co-commission by ASFB and the esteemed Valley Performing Arts Center, located in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. VPAC executive director, Thor Steingraber, put ASFB directors Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty under tight constraints in selecting a choreographer. First, the work would have its world premiere Friday March 3, at VPAC, the frothy multi-arts theater located at Cal State, Northridge, where ASFB is dance company-in-residence. (This showcase represents the second of the residency’s three performances.)

Mossbrucker picked up the gauntlet with glee. “Thor asked us to select a Los Angeles-based choreographer.” he explained. “He also wanted someone working in commercial dance. We were delighted to discover Cherice, with her strong choreographic voice. She fits the bill on all counts.”

Steingraber, an impresario known for his eclectic taste, agreed. “There is something uniquely Hollywood about Cherice’s aesthetic and her approach to dance and performance,” he says. “It’s very much rooted in storytelling, embracing humor, and while unpacking a complex concept—the quest for happiness—it is also openly embracing of a kind of entertainment value.”

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