Welcome to ‘Atlantika’
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After witnessing Cheryl Flaharty at work, you'll never look at Asteroidea or Amphiprion akindynos in the same way again.
» On stage: From 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4
» Place: Kahala Hotel & Resort
» Tables: $3,000 to $10,000 for 10
» Call: 383-5149
In her eyes the former, a starfish, becomes a towering pink creature, half fur, half sparkly metallic, with a cone head. The latter, an anemone-dwelling clown fish, becomes a swirling mass of orange iridescent chiffon with a pierrot's ruff around its collar.
Where biologists see fins, spikes and natural camouflage when looking at sea creatures, Flaharty sees feathery headdresses worthy of a Vegas show, a cloud of balloons or a swirl of ruffles mimicking the wingspan of a Spanish dancer.
To step into Flaharty's home, where she and a team of volunteers are working on IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre's fundraising event, "Atlantika," is to step into the lost city of Atlantis.
Take a deep breath and come along for a swim.
Cheryl Flaharty, director of IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre, makes like a jellyfish in preparation for the company's fundraiser "Atlantika."
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Few dancers envision themselves as designers, but being part of a company often means jumping in and learning the craft the hard way. It's sink or swim when the budget is tight and seamstresses are in short supply. Then there are those unusual costume needs that can't be met by searching store racks. It's not every day, after all, that you'll find lotus and rubber duckie costumes that float on water, or a mermaid costume that flows underwater without falling apart.
Cheryl Flaharty, artistic director of the IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre, often finds herself in the position of choreographer and ringmaster to dozens of dancers in annual productions, but she does the same in coordinating a team of volunteers helping her to bring her extravagant visions to life.
They're currently hard at work on costumes for "Atlantika," the company's annual fundraising party taking place at the Kahala Hotel & Resort Oct. 4. The splashy event will feature oceanfront and pool-side dining at ocean-themed tables with names like "Why the Little French Mermaid Sings," "Sea Horse Polo Club," "Santorini Sex Pistols and the Spiny Sea Urchins" and "Finny's Five-Star Fish Pond."
A couple of dozen mermen will be there to please, whether guests want to be fed, fanned or pampered with hand massages. Mermen are "not allowed to say no," said Flaharty.
And of course, there will be dancers everywhere, in and out of the water, to entertain and serve guests as well.
Showing the water-tested mermaid costume, shimmering with silvery translucent and blue and purple metallic-tinged scales, Flaharty said she is amazed by how well her dancers have taken to the water.
"It's great being here in Hawaii where so many dancers are swimmers. I don't know if this could have happened on the mainland," said Flaharty, who danced in New York before returning home 18 years ago. Prior to moving to New York, she had never taken visual art classes and had briefly attended sewing classes, calling it quits when a Singer needle went through her thumb. Her active dancer's foot had hit the sewing machine pedal at the wrong time.
"When I started butoh in New York, it was as much about the image as the movement, and often the image inspired the movement," Flaharty said. "We'd start with a costume or prop and develop movement out of that.
"When I came back here, I started getting more involved in the visual aspect of making costumes. If I can imagine it, I just figure out how to make it."
So, in Flaharty's world, an umbrella dyed in multiple shades of ocean hues with tendrils of fabric dangling from its ribs becomes the bell of a jellyfish. She imagines she'll also present a human fountain, with a costume rigged to a motor to offer a continuous spray of water, an engineering feat she's never attempted before, but the woman is undaunted.
"I don't think it'll be too difficult. We're gonna do it."
COURTESY SERGIO GOES AND
IONA CONTEMPORARY DANCE
Lizbeth Grote tests the water-readiness of the mermaid costume for IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre's "Atlantika" fundraiser, taking place in October.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Construction of the costumes for IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre's "Atlantika" fund-raiser is taking place at artistic director Cheryl Flaharty's home, where, from left, Flaharty, Peggy Hill, Dee Laris and Carlyn Wolfe have fun with a starfish costume.
THERE'S A LOT at stake in this party, the dance company's only fundraiser of the year. "It's really fun but it's really serious," Flaharty said. The event supports the troupe's annual season, touring and the development of new productions.
A dance company in a small city like Honolulu cannot survive on performances alone. IONA has found a niche mingling at private parties and incentive meetings sponsored by corporate clients. A colorful extravaganza like "Atlantika" makes a memorable calling card and helps build demand for the characters.
As we speak, ideas float into Flaharty's head, like the notion of a beach fire pit and a dancer with a hairpiece of marshmallows for roasting and making S'mores, and tables set with foods that guests can feed their "animals." Even the lotus eats green grapes.
Flaharty's vision started taking shape after she came across a colorful coffee-table book, "Reefs," filled with photographs of sea horses, sea dragons, sea anemones and coral polyps that provide the inspiration for hats and headdresses. An octopus inspired a $10,000 table called "Octopussy's Garden in the Shade." They've just started cutting out the animal-print legs, and Flaharty envisions suction cups on their undersides.
Dee Laris squeezes into a pink starfish costume, with glittery metallic dots on the front and fur in the back, which can only be appreciated in the dark, with the right light. Her arms and legs form four points of the starfish, and a cone-shaped hat will form the fifth. Flaharty orders her to lie down on her stomach and spread her legs to make sure the effect is just right. It has to be right.
"It's my sacred pink fur," said Flaharty, who has been waiting for this moment. "I brought it back from L.A. 10 years ago, and I've been dying to use it. It glows in the dark!" Flaharty said. "I can just picture Andrea Torres on an aerial ring, under UV light, or doing cartwheels."
Among her volunteers is Peggy Hill, who had her own company in New York, the Bicycle Shop Dancers, and packed costumes and props into small bags for performances in subway stations and on trains, in schools, anywhere. Hill had been sewing costumes for her dolls since she was a child, then graduated to dressing her friends for impromptu dance concerts.
"It was fun and they liked the costumes, it was like dress-up, but I don't know if they liked the dancing part. Some did; others were like, 'I'm supposed to dance across the stage, when?'
"I had an enjoyable talent, but Cheryl has a great talent and Hawaii does not know how extraordinarily inventive this company is," Hill said. "I've sewn all my life, but using foam, boning ... There are plenty of problems involved in putting dancers and costumes in water, and it takes a real vision to come with something like this."