Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Barred From Life

"Barred From Life," a dance drama exploring the issue of wrongful conviction, is one of the projects underwritten in part by a Hackworth Faculty Research Grant from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Created and performed by David Popalisky, director of the SCU Dance Program, in collaboration with Cookie Ridolfi, director of the Northern California Innocence Project, the piece premieres Wednesday, March 31, 2004. It illuminates the human experience of individuals convicted for crimes they did not commit.

"Barred from Life" was conceived in the spring of 2002 in a parking lot conversation between Ridolfi and Popalisky after dropping their boys at school. "While I knew, vaguely, of Cookie's work on behalf of the wrongfully convicted," said Popalisky, "our talk unveiled the need to expose this issue to greater public awareness. It suddenly struck us that a performance work could powerfully illuminate the tragic human consequences of wrongful conviction."

In the summer of 2003, Popalisky conducted numerous interviews in the Chicago and San Francisco Bay areas with exonerated individuals who had spent years in prison, some on death row. "I needed to hear the exonerated men's stories first hand," said Popalisky, "but more importantly, to sense their presence as men, most of whom are about my age, who had survived a special kind of hell." Based on these interviews, Popalisky created "Barred from Life" to address the complexity of wrongful conviction through a combination of media including dance movement, video imagery, excerpts from interviews with exonerees, and an original score by True D. Rosaschi II.

"Barred from Life" occurs within a confined set, symbolic of a prison cell, that embodies the restricted physical experience of these men. The score and video represent the varying mental states of the wrongfully accused throughout the various stages of their ordeal, and excerpts from the exonerees' interviews will connect audiences with the voices, faces, and eloquence of these men and their astounding stories.

"David's performance is an emotional commentary on an immensely important social issue -he melds poetry, media, and dance to portray the experiences of people forced into the nightmare of arrest and conviction for crimes they didn't commit," said Ridolfi. "I'm awed by David's remarkable artistry. 'Barred from Life' is a powerful new story of the pain, despair, and resilience of wrongful conviction."

Exonerees Delbert Tibbs and James Newsome, both of Chicago, along with local Bay Area exonerees are scheduled to join Popalisky and Ridolfi in a post-performance discussion. The talk will focus on the flaws in the justice system that continue to ensnare the innocent, interrogation and prosecution procedural reforms, the role of artistic expression in enhancing public awareness of wrongful convictions, and how awareness can move the issue forward.

David Popalisky received an MFA in Choreography from Mills College and an MA in Theatre Arts/Dance Emphasis from San Jose State University. In the past year he presented "Enter Softly, Cross Quickly" in San Francisco and San Jose and was commissioned to create "Flames of Prayer" for the Western Ballet Company. He has performed both his own work and with the Vanaver Caravan, Bauer Dance Ensemble and Richard Haisma and dancers throughout the United States, and appeared throughout California with Tandy Beal in "Outside Blake's Window". He also toured Korea and Japan with the Throne Dance Theatre in 1983. He choreographed and performed for the Belize International Dance Festival in 1998 and in 1999 returned to set a work on the Belize Junior National Dance Company. Popalisky has taught dance in Italy and Korea, as well as around the United States. Currently, he serves as the Director of the Dance Program for the Department of Theatre and Dance and teaches Choreography, Modern Dance technique classes, Dance History, and Performance and Culture.

"Barred from Life" was made possible by the support of the Bannan Center, Hackworth Faculty grant, a University Research grant, the SCU Center of Performing Arts, and the Northern California Innocence Project.