Take a Cosmic Trek With This Artsy Fundraiser

IONAsphere lets you explore the outer limits of performance art, dance and cuisine, all in one surreal evening by the pool on Oct. 7.
Photo: Courtesy of IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre

​Known for its dramatically costumed, role-playing dance performances in festivals and events, IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre’s all-new show includes some intergalactic twists and out-of-this-world cuisine. (Hint: The theme is space.)


It also is making creative use of the Sheraton Waikīkī’s Helumoa Pool. “The pool is huge. There’s going to be a living fountain in the middle,” promises founder and choreographer Cheryl Flaharty. “Everyone walks away impressed and amazed.”


And why not, when you can choose your desserts by plucking them off the hoop skirts worn by circulating dancers? Or take a toke from a life-size walking, wearable hookah?


In a bid to lure the curious and impulsive to the festivities, single Walk Around tickets are available for the first time, at $150 each.


“No one sits in their seat anyway,” says Flaharty. “Everyone is always up, interacting with the dancers, eating and dancing.”


One of the dancers debuting in the show, dubbed IONAsphere, is ‘ukulele virtuoso Taimane, who has taken workshops with Flaharty for several years. “She took my Butoh workshop,” says Flaharty. “Our work comes from Butoh mixed with contemporary techniques and Taimane is totally a natural. She’s a natural dancer, makes incredible eye contact—which we do a lot of in our mingling. She was my favorite student and so I said, ‘Hey, want to dance?’”


Just don’t expect her to break out in “Stairway to Heaven,” Flaharty says. “We are not letting an ‘ukulele near her!”


Those familiar with IONA from its guest spots at parties and featured roles in events, such as HONOLULU’s own Hale ‘Aina Awards, already know the difference the troupe can make through outré costuming and enigmatic performance-art interactions. The effect is kinetic when coupled with dazzling lighting arrays and music. “No speeches, no announcements, just nonstop entertainment,” Flaharty promises.


The IONA dance theater troupe got its start 27 years ago and has performed frequently at local festivals and venues, as well as nationally. Artistic director Flaharty first started to support performances and performers through galas at Café Sistina. “I was a waitress back in New York; that’s how I supported myself,” she says. “At Café Sistina, we had dancers serving food. Today, our dancers don’t serve food—well, except for the hoop skirt dessert dancers. But the gala provides a habitat, tremendous training and an opportunity for them to grow and to do what they love.”


Few can make a living dancing in Hawai‘i, so the IONA dancers come to each performance on a mission. “They are all dancers in their heart, body and soul, but they all work 9-to-5 jobs,” Flaharty says. “Many are University of Hawai‘i dance department graduates. They work office jobs, as Uber drivers, keeping it flexible so they can be available for dance gigs.”


The fundraiser will help keep the company—and its hallucinatory spectaculars—alive. “All the dancers are donating their performances. Otherwise, they do get paid for everything they do with us.” This year’s event also will feature the friend who coined the event name 20 years ago: DJ Darren Miller, who will be the Cosmic Rainbow Pool master of ceremonies. A San Francisco-based photographer, Miller liked to joke that the company existed in its own “ionosphere.” This year, the concept comes full circle with the space theme.


“Everything is slightly cosmic,” says Flaharty. “You’re going to see a lot of bubble wrap in the costumes.”


Need a quick vacation? If you have three hours to spare, IONAsphere 2017 is guaranteed to blow your mind, feed you imaginatively and well—and leave you gasping at visions of dancers costumed like figments out of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Now in its seventh year at the Sheraton Waikīkī, the IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre’s annual gala and fundraiser Oct. 7 takes its trademark interactive fantasia to the next level by staging it around the Helumoa Pool, with space as the theme.


Oct. 7, 6 p.m., Sheraton Waikīkī, ionasphere2017.eventbrite.com, iona360.com