In 2015, Lionel Popkin became the Chair of the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA where he is also a Professor of Choreography and Performance. Popkin‘s work has been seen nationally and internationally and his most recent work, Inflatable Trio, had its Los Angeles premiere at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Performance Lab. The very long, all white gallery was configured with the audience along one side, giving the performance an unfortunate feel of watching a tennis match. The set consists of three pieces of inflatable furniture and it is an integral part of this hour-long work. The dancers are very good and the sound score by Tom Lopez is one of the strongest elements of the evening. There is humor and strong moments of thoughtfulness, but overall the work lacks sustainability of focus.

Inflatable Trio investigates family interactions and the tensions that arise between family members. As an introduction to each major section of the work, the three performers simultaneously inhale deeply and hold their breaths (or not) for different lengths of time. The pieces of yellow plastic furniture include a couch, an easy chair and an ottoman that are sat on, moved around and even leapt upon. They are used as barriers and tossed about during a childlike temper tantrum. We see the family sitting together watching a short video of themselves seated in the same couch, while looking out a yellow painted bay window. The furniture is laid upon as it is inflated or deflated. A wife/mother tries unsuccessfully to rouse her husband/son off the couch by deflating it, and there is one moment when the furniture is stood upon by all three during a test of wills.

Top to bottom: Carolyn Hall, Lionel Popkin, Samantha Mohr in Popkin’s INFLATABLE TRIO – Photo by Cari Ann Shim Sham

The choreography uses the familiar, loose-limb, ever-moving release technique, but Popkin does take it to another level with moments of stillness. There are two wonderfully performed solos for the extraordinary dancer and performer, Samantha Mohr and Carolyn Hall holds one’s attention with her Lilly Tomlin-like facial expressions. She is a versatile performer. Popkin manages to move through the space with a quiet ease that is nice to watch, and he uses the furniture with that same agility.

Inflatable Trio has beautiful moments, as when the three family members are connected and move in a slow repetitive three step dance that concludes with them becoming uncomfortably entangled, as well as a forehead to forehead tango between Popkin and Mohr. It is moments like these that bring the work back into focus, but there were far too many times when I had to work at paying attention to what was taking place onstage.

The costumes for this work are by Maria Garcia; Video Design by Cari Ann Shim Sham and the Lighting Designer is Chris Kuhl. Inflatable Trio runs at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Performance Lab tonight through Saturday, February 25 at 8:00 P.M.

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