Jaw-Droppingly Good: “Victor Charlie” at San Diego International Fringe Festival

Another critic came up to me, wide-eyed, after last night’s performance of “Victor Charlie,” [the] movement initiative’s show at the San Diego International Fringe Festival. “Who are these people?” she said. “Where did they come from?” In other words, how could anyone as gifted as movement initiative directors Caryn Glass and Ami Ipapo be living here and not be recognized as stars?

That’s how I felt when I saw this company for the first time last fall, doing a works-in-progress version of “Victor Charlie.” I’m even more in love now. And I’m betting that when the show is a hit in a major theater, anyone who caught it at the Fringe is going to brag about seeing the world premiere in the Spreckels Theatre Raw space. By the way, the space is indeed raw, with paint peeling from the walls … and there may never be a more perfect venue for this show about a 1960s-era soldier than this former USO center.

In the interest of getting the word out as early as possible (there’s a show this morning at 11), I’m going to lift some comments from my review in October. At that time, the show was called “Breaking Ground.” Material from the earlier review is in italics.

The slogan of [the] movement initiative1375641721-large is “Dare to move,” and daring is clearly bred in the bones of founders/directors Caryn Glass and Ami Ipapo – both are veterans of Streb Extreme Action, the Brooklyn company known for its bruising physicality and aerial work that makes your heart catch in your throat. Although no one leaped from scaffolding in “Breaking Ground,” the company’s show at the White Box Theater last weekend, there was plenty of daring and originality and infectious fun.

The cherry on the top of this sundae is that [the] movement initiative is local. Glass and Ipapo started the company in Brooklyn in 2010 and moved here two years ago. … 

Their vision is big, and so is their talent. They hope to develop “Breaking Ground” as a “Contact”-type dance play to songs by Denver folk-rockers the Lumineers; playwright Sarah Hunter is doing the book, inspired by the song “Charlie Boy” about a man who goes into the army and gets killed. It’s a hugely ambitious project, but Glass and Ipapo bring a lot of chops to the table – beyond their contemporary dance backgrounds, Ipapo makes dance films (and there are film segments in “Breaking Ground”); and Glass had a major role (the Girl in the Yellow Dress), under the direction of “Contact” creator Susan Stroman, in two productions of the Tony Award-winning show.

Last weekend, they showed the first act of “Breaking Ground” in a very low-budget form – for instance, the time period was hard to pin down, because the costumes, no doubt scavenged from thrift stores, suggested maybe the 1940s or  50s, background music included stuff from the 20s, and from my reading of the “Charlie Boy” lyrics, the story should be set in the mid-60s. Still, it was great fun, from the moment I figured out that some of the people walking in with the audience were performers, who become part of a bar scene onstage. And when they broke into the first dance number, 13 dancers moving in unison with Broadway meets hip-hop choreography, wow! I wouldn’t be surprised to see Glass and Ipapo invited to choreograph for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Their work has that kind of vernacular accessibility and quickness, for instance a bit where dancers leaped over one another’s prone, rolling bodies.

They’re able to inspire dancers and pull strong performances out of them. Most of the cast was young dancers whom I’ve seen perform around town, and I’ve never seen them look as good as they did in this hybrid choreography. Group numbers were tight and crisp, and Marty Dorado was lyrical in a solo as Charlie. And when dancers are asked to speak lines, it can be disaster, but not here. Glass, who directed, made it work.

In the Fringe version, the costumes and two historical video clips clearly set the time period in the early 1960s, just as the United States is getting into the Vietnam War. There are more dance numbers for Charlie’s wife, Lillian, played by Chantalle Herrera, who has everything–sharp jazz moves, passion, a heartbreaking smile, and no-holds-barred physicality. It’s not aerial work à la Streb, but there’s a repeated movement where she throws herself off-balance and lands on the side of one leg that made me hope she was wearing kneepads.

[php snippet=1] Sarah Hunter’s script is more developed, clearly telling the story in which Charlie gets beaten to death by fellow soldiers because he’s gay. There’s more to the character of Charlie’s buddy and possible lover, a role that’s nailed by Arthur Huang. And I learned, after writing the earlier review, that Hunter is responsible for the strong acting.

There are some areas to work on. One of the video clips, with President Johnson explaining why we’re getting into the war, is an important history lesson, but it’s over-long–having some dance going on in front of the projection would make it work, I think. A dialogue scene showing the estrangement between Charlie and Lillian felt a bit flabby, though the problem may have been the Raw space’s challenging acoustics.

And I wanted cast bios! They’re not in the program or on [the] movement initiative’s website, and this superb cast deserves to be better known. Addendum: Thanks, Edrian Pangilinan, for letting me know the bios are online, after all. You can see them here.


  1. Edrian Pangilinan on July 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Thank you so much for the lovely review and the support of our project. I am Edrian, one of the dancers for [the] movement initiative in Victor Charlie. I just wanted to point out that although our bios are not on the program. It is up on our website.


    Much love,

    • Janice Steinberg on July 6, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Thanks, Edrian. I was in a hurry and needed to explore the website more. Glad to know the bios are there.

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