Dance trio grapples with Popkin’s multiracial identity using a cultural patchwork of fabric through lens of dance icon
In Ruth Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, fabric is a living entity. The set is material ordered, strewn, and tossed. The movement is set to a live Klezmer score, and the full evening’s work is the intersection of these fabrics and the dancers. As the trio and the materials clump, order, and scatter, the biography of early 20th century choreographer Ruth St. Denis is unveiled, allowing Popkin to deal with his multiracial identity as half Jewish and half Indian. Ruth’s world premiere on March 2-3 at Dance Place in Washington D.C. is just one week prior to the performances here in Philadelphia on March 8-9 at 8 p.m., setting the Bride stage with yet another first-see experience for audiences across the region.
Loosely inspired by the career of Ruth St. Denis, Ruth serves as a way for Popkin to wrestle with his own uncertainties and awkwardness with generalized cultural representations. Miss Ruth revolutionized the concert dance world, first with her “Oriental” dances and Vaudeville background in the early 1900s and then again from 1914-1931 with the creation of the Denishawn company. In preparation for this piece, Popkin foraged Miss Ruth’s archives in L.A., where she died the year before he was born, and examined her journals, photos, programs, sketches, costumes and notes. Her journals (particularly those from the notable Denishawn 1925-26 tour of The Orient) are filled with references to the costumes as the starting place for her dances, and Popkin follows her through this point of entry. A vast array of fabric and clothing is strewn across the stage. The performers’ attempts to sort through it all function as a metaphor for the way we try to order our messy pasts.
There is much for Popkin to tussle with beyond Miss Ruth’s costumes as Ruth St. Denis was an appropriator of Anti-Semitism. She only allowed only ten percent of her Denishawn dance company to be Jewish. Did Popkin consider this as he explored her as a choreographer? Was her “Orientalism” an act of cultural appropriation or a legitimate examination of sources of dance? Can a century of perspective help the contemporary choreographer reach his own point of equilibrium? Lionel Popkin questions the acts of cultural sourcing, representation and transmission. The work also features an original score by Guy Klucevsek for accordion and violin, evoking the essence of both Klezmer and Indian music, a beautiful intersection of the themes illustrated by the dance itself.
Don’t forget that when Lionel presents, anything can happen. When last here in Philadelphia, Popkin performed Ahead of Myself, in which he began his performance by first taking a bow and then entering the audience with a live tape recorder to ask for reactions to the unwitnessed dance performance. After recording, he rewound and played the tape, improvised to the responses, and then took the tape out of the recorder and shoved it into his rear end. In another Philadelphia performance, Popkin presented And Then We Eat, in which he cooked zucchini curry onstage with his dance partner, offering the dish to audience members at the end of the performance. While Popkin keeps his playful nature in the choreography of Ruth, the subject matter here is more reflective than earlier works, offering sincerity in self realization that will echo with audiences who struggle with common human issues like self identity and societal relationships.
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Bride Members, students, and seniors save 25% on tickets. Tickets can be purchased at paintedbride.org, over the phone, Tuesday – Saturday, 12pm – 6pm at 215-925-9914 or in person at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106.
ABOUT LIONEL POPKIN
Lionel Popkin has had his choreography presented nationally and internationally at numerous venues including DanspaceProject and Dance Theater Workshop in New York City, The Getty Museum, REDCAT, and Highways in Los Angeles, the Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out Series, On the Boards in Seattle, the Wilma Theater and Philadelphia Dance Projects in Philadelphia, Sushi Performance in San Diego, Dance Place in DC, The Place Theater in London, and the Guongdong Modern Dance Festival in Guongzhou China. From 1999-2000 Lionel was a Choreographer-In- Residence at the Susan Hess Studio in Philadelphia, PA and he has been commissioned by San Diego’s Lower Left Performance Collective, the Li Chiao-Ping Dance Company, Carolyn Hall, and Nejla Yatkin. As a dancer, Lionel has performed throughout the US and Europe in the companies of Trisha Brown (2000-2003), Terry Creach (1996-2000), and Stephanie Skura (1993-1996).
He has received grants from the National Performance Network’s Creation Fund, the Center for Cultural Innovation, the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs, the Santa Monica Artist Fellowship, the Puffin Foundation, the Danspace Project’s Commissioning Initiative through the Jerome Foundation, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the New York State Music Fund, and the Durfee Foundation. He has served on the faculty of Bates College, London’s Laban Centre, Sarah Lawrence College, Temple University and the University of Maryland. He is a certified teacher of Skinner Releasing Technique. Currently Lionel is an Associate Professor of Choreography and Performance at UCLA.
ABOUT GUY KLUCEVSEK
Guy Klucevsek is one of the world’s most versatile and highly-respected accordionists. He has performed and/or recorded with Laurie Anderson, Bang On a Can, Brave Combo, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Coleman, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Rahim al Haj, Robin Holcomb, Kepa Junkera, the Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant, Present Music, Relâche, Zeitgeist, and John Zorn.
He is the recipient of a 2010 United States Artists Collins Fellowship,an unrestricted $50,000 award given annually to “America’s finest artists.” He has premiered over 50 solo accordion pieces, including his own, as well as those he has commissioned from Mary Ellen Childs, William Duckworth, Fred Frith, Aaron Jay Kernis, Jerome Kitzke, Stephen Montague, Somei Satoh, Lois V Vierk, and John Zorn.
His music theatre scores include “Chinoiserie” and “Obon” with Ping Chong and Company, “Hard Coal,” with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, “Industrious Angels” for Laurie McCants, “Cirque Lili” for French circus artist Jérôme Thomas, which has been performed over 250 times world wide, always with live music, and his own piece, “Squeeze Play,” an evening of collaborations with Dan Hurlin, David Dorfman and Dan Froot, Claire Porter, and Mary Ellen Childs. He and Dan Hurlin were awarded, jointly, a BESSIE for, “The Heart of the Andes,” which has played the Henson International Puppetry Festival, The Barbican Center in London, and the Ten Days on the Island Festival, Tasmania. He can also be heard on John Williams’s orchestral scores for the Steven Spielberg films, “The Terminal,” “Munich,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” and “The Adventures of Tin-Tin,” and on A. R. Rahman’s score for “People Like Us.”