Telenovela-inspired dance series brings a fictional couple to Venice for their first date

By Christina Campodonico

Teresa ‘Toogie’ Barcelo and Joe Schenck dance to the ups and downs of new romance in Heidi Deckler’s “Sophie & Charlie” Photo by Andrei Andreev

Teresa ‘Toogie’ Barcelo and Joe Schenck dance to the ups and downs of new romance in Heidi Deckler’s “Sophie & Charlie”
Photo by Andrei Andreev

Known for its literary events, Beyond Baroque in Venice might just be the perfect place for a bookish couple’s first date.

At least Heidi Duckler thinks so. The L.A.-based choreographer and queen of site-specific dance brings her telenovela dance series “Sophie & Charlie” there on Thursday.

“This seemed to be a great place for a first date … a nice first date in Venice,” says Duckler, who is breaking ground by presenting a multi-part dance production in four different locations throughout Los Angeles this fall.

Unlike most dance works, which might run for only a night or two, “Sophie & Charlie” is split into episodic installments and follows the romantic relationship between fictional couple Sophie (dancer Teresa ‘Toogie’ Barcelo) and Charlie (dancer Joe Schenck).

The series opened last Saturday with Sophie and Charlie meeting during a funeral at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Studio City. This week’s installment follows up that initial encounter with their first date at Beyond Baroque. Later this month the couple’s story heads to Crenshaw and West Hollywood.

Barcelo says she immediately responded to the Venice space and its romantic implications during the first rehearsal.

“There’s something about Beyond Baroque that’s very intimate. I immediately felt like I could go on a date here,” Barcelo said, adding the caveat that for this particular outing “it’s kind of voyeuristic.”

It’s a sentiment that Duckler echoes.

“You get inside the minds and the hearts of the couple,” Duckler says of both the performance and the space.

Each site and each episode is “tied to the theme, tied to what’s going on with the couple and tied to the environment itself,” explains Duckler, who sets her choreography to live music.

The funeral installment featured violinist Lili Haydn and pianist/composer William Goldstein. Harpist and beat-boxer Phillip King will provide musical accompaniment at Beyond Baroque. Tuba player William Roper follows the couple to South L.A., and the finale unfurls at Kings Road Park in West Hollywood with the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet providing beats.

The live music element supports the production’s narrative structure, says Duckler, though the work is unscripted in the traditional sense of a written score.

“It’s not written, but the logic does follow,” says Duckler, who choreographed each piece to stand on its own but also to build the characters’ and audience’s relationship to the work over time.

Barcelo sees things a little differently.

“It is written,” she says, “just written in a dance language.”

That fusion of dance with the telenovela genre has a deep connection to childhood for both Duckler and Barcelo.

“Sophie & Charlie … was really a childhood game my kids used to play,” says Duckler, recalling the origins of the show. “They used to come all dressed up and come downstairs and make dinner reservations and different nights they would be in different outfits and have different characters and personalities. I would play the role of cook and they would order exotic dishes from me. And then they would play the stereo and they would dance. It was kind of a fantasy life. … Somehow it all just became a dancing-telenovela.”

Barcelo also tapped into her past to prepare for the role of Sophie. Growing up in a Latino family, she remembers watching telenovelas from a young age.

“All of my character choices for Sophie are direct memories from watching these telenovelas as a child,” says Barcelo. She takes inspiration from the histrionics of soap actresses on TV, and even how her older siblings used to imitate their melodramatic actions.

For Barcelo, drama is at the core of Sophie’s dilemma — her love for Charlie.

“She’s torn between following her heart and following her logic,” Barcelo hints.

It remains to be seen how that drama will unfold throughout the run of “Sophie & Charlie.” But isn’t that just the thrill of a first date?

Heidi Duckler’s “Sophie & Charlie: First Date” begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. Tickets are $50; $20 for students and kids. For more information, visit