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Contemporary dance meets telenovela in 'Sophie & Charlie'

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Teresa Barcelo rehearses for her role as Sophie in the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre production of "Sophie & Charlie."
Collin Friesen
Teresa Barcelo rehearses for her role as Sophie in the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre production of "Sophie & Charlie."

Choreographer Heidi Duckler was inspired by Spanish-language soap operas for her latest site-specific work, which takes place at multiple venues over several nights.

Contemporary dance is a challenging physical activity. And staging a performance inside a WWII-era church doesn’t make it any easier. There are chairs to rearrange and rummage sale items to move out of the choir loft.

And then there’s the matter of making sure the lead dancer’s hair doesn’t get snagged on the wall mid-show, like it did during a rehearsal for "Sophie & Charlie," which is dance theater in the form of a telenovela. It will take place at four different locations around Los Angeles, starting with the couple’s meet-cute at a funeral and ending with — well, you’ll just have to show up to find out.

“I’m not sure if it’s first of it’s kind,” says Heidi Duckler, the choreographer behind the production. “But I haven’t heard of such a thing before.”

Duckler has made her company's reputation on what’s called "site specific" dance performances. But this project also required some serious TV viewing. Duckler says telenovelas, which became hugely popular here in the U.S. in the '80s, are more than just soapy romances with crazy plot lines. They also spread messages of female empowerment through family planning, a history she was happy to incorporate.

“It informs the movement, it informs the relationship between Sophie and Charlie that this woman in this telenovela really does want more for her life," Duckler says. "And as funny as it is, it's also tragic and you can see her struggles, so she’s both the character in the telenovela and also the viewer watching the telenovela.”

Teresa Barcelo, who plays Sophie, says it took a while to hook into her character, until she realized just how much of her own personal history she had with telenovelas.

“I have so much to pull from, this is amazing," Barcelo says. "I get to reenact most of the things I was mocked for most of my childhood. My mother would come home late, put her novelas on and fall asleep. So I would have to give her a recap the next morning... I would be literally forced — with my mother’s huge, heavy legs on me — to watch novelas.”

Duckler is essentially re-creating a telenovela with various sets. She wanted to do something big, but couldn’t find a suitable venue, so she decided to take the show on the road. 

In addition to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Studio City, the venues include Beyond Baroque literary center in Venice, a semi-vacant hospital in South L.A., and  Kings Road Park in West Hollywood.

Joe Schenck, who will dance the part of Charlie, says he was also a little taken aback by the scope of the project:

“It was kind of a blank space, you don’t have a frame of reference for what that looks like. So maybe a little bit of anxiety, but a lot of excitement about that huge blank palate right in front of me.”

For dates and ticket information about "Sophie and Charlie," visit Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre.

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