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David J. Popalisky and Cookie Ridolfie - 'Barred From Life'

More life could be infused into 'Barred from Life'

by Rebecca Hirschman

September 23, 2004 -- Presentation Theatre, University of San Francisco

"Barred from Life," which premiered earlier this year at Santa Clara University, was presented by the Performing Arts and Social Justice Program at the University of San Francisco and the Golden Gate University of Law. Conceived by David J. Popalisky, professor of dance at Santa Clara University, and Cookie Ridolfi, director of the Northern California Innocence Project and instructor of law at Santa Clara University,"Barred from Life" examines wrongful conviction through video and dance. The work's premise is interesting and thought-provoking, and with the right blend of artistic choices, has the opportunity to succeed.

Unfortunately, the video moments stand out as the highlight of the work. The exonerees' stories breathe life into the piece, providing gritty details and a slew of emotions. This is where the investigative aspect of the work lies: hearing how social status and ethnicity play critical roles in wrongful conviction. Throughout the video sequence, a fictional exoneree's story is interwoven with these true personal tales. Nevertheless, using actors to portray a plausible wrongful conviction seems phony, and this doesn't have the same honesty nor impact that the genuine stories do. Perhaps using scenes from a movie, documentary, or music video could have had a better and more realistic effect.

Similarly, the dance aspect was severely lacking in this sense of realness. Choreographed and performed by Popalisky, the movement was slow and uninventive, combining classical movements such as attitude turns and low battements with contractions and poses. Most of the time, he mimicked the plausible exoneree's story, which gave the dance elements a strong, literal quality. Had he emphasized the emotions the exonerees felt while using more abstract movement, the choreography might have pushed the overall work forward rather than becoming a static element to the piece.

While the dance and movement detract from the overall message, "Barred from Life" tackles a topic of great concern, and the documentary film segments do a great job conveying this issue. With some retooling, "Barred from Life" could become a successful and educational piece.

Edited by Jeff

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