to you by
New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women
and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
More Flash Reviews
Review 2, 4-28: 'Bodies that Dance'
Dance>Detour & Momenta Focus on Abilities
By Renee E. D'Aoust
Copyright 2006 Renee E. D'Aoust
CHICAGO -- In the opening
video montage of Bodies that Dance, a program seen April 21 at the
Duncan YMCA's Chernin Center for the Performing Arts, Alana Wallace
poignantly recalls how much she wanted to dance as a kid. A picture
of a young child flashes on the screen, and Wallace says, "This
is the girl who could walk." That was before polio and before she
required a wheelchair for mobility. As the picture fades, Wallace
says, "I never thought the world of dance could include me -- or
anyone with a disability." The video ends, the curtains part, and
there is Wallace in her wheelchair, a huge smile on her face, wheeling
onto the stage.
Presented by Wallace's
Dance>Detour company, one of about 30 mixed-ability or 'physically
integrated' troupes worldwide, and Momenta, Bodies that Dance featured
a collection of physically integrated dance works. Some of the performers
were sight-impaired, others were in wheelchairs, one was a little
person, and the majority showed no sign of disability. But as participant
Kris Lenzo stated in the post-performance Q & A, "There's no such
thing as somebody without a disability." The performances were part
of Chicago's first-ever Festival of Disability Arts and Culture.
Dance>Detour was founded
1995 as Chicago's first physically integrated company. Momenta,
which regularly performs the work of Doris Humphrey, was formed
in 1983 by Stephanie Clemens, Larry Ippel, and James Tenuta. It
is the resident company of the Academy of Movement and Music in
nearby Oak Park, which Clemens and Ippel co-direct. Clemens started
writing grant proposals to make the academy handicapped-accessible
in 2000 and subsequently received a federal Community Development
Block Grant. After parents raised $75,000 in matching funds to secure
the federal grant, the school celebrated with performances using
disabled and abled performers. Alana Wallace and Stephanie Clemens
are powerhouses, incorporating dancers with disabilities into their
performances and also making their shows accessible to audiences
with disabilities who otherwise might not see dance. Both have a
shared focus on the importance of inclusion of all bodies in dance
training and performance; however, while Dance>Detour was created
as a physically integrated dance company, Momenta has only recently
performed works involving dancers who have disabilities.
piece on the program was Wallace's "If Only." I admit the meaning
of the bourees eluded me, and the pointe shoes in this context seemed
ironic. Nevertheless, despite my reservations, I appreciated the
structure and form. "If Only" opens with a straightforward tableau:
two women sitting on a bench. Wallace's most compelling works often
include simple (I don't mean easy) gesture-based movement. As a
choreographer, Wallace knows how to place bodies onstage, effectively
using level changes necessitated by wheelchair dancers to advantage.
Loss permeates "If Only." I read it as a creation myth about a wheel
disembodied from the wheelchair, which lies on its side downstage
right. The two dancers slide off the bench, another joins them,
and the three strive for the chair by stretching and reaching along
the diagonal. It isn't at all clear who needs the chair most. A
fourth dancer -- this is the one on pointe -- reassembles the wheel
to the chair, but by then it is too late. The three dancers have
collapsed from their effort.
Later, Homes Hans Bryant
used Tovah Collins, who displayed super pointe work, in a trio with
Bryant and Wallace, who has an effusive stage presence. Collins
moves with so little effort and such enormous confidence, it is
utterly satisfying to watch her. In Bryant's "Dreams Reborn," Wallace's
wheelchair work paired with Collins's pointe work yielded strikingly
The evening also included
choreography by Ginger Lane, most notably "Convergence," a Chet
Atkins honky-tonk. Kris Lenzo banged his wheelchair in tune to the
music, and the audience laughed. It was indicative of the humorous
aspects of the evening, the demystifying of disability, and I wished
Lane had had the wheelchair dancer keep up the beat for the entire
In several of the pieces
throughout the show, a dancer stepped up onto an occupied wheelchair
and raised her leg into arabesque. But what can be performed as
an obviously static position when done with the supporting leg on
the floor looks to me even more static when done on a moving wheelchair.
Perhaps it is because of the circular movement -- there are two
wheels spinning underneath, after all. Yet if the dancer merely
holds a position, it simply looks like the same position except
done on a wheelchair. From a dancer's perspective, I think a duet
with a partner who uses a wheelchair requires even more attention
to breath, even more focus on expanding a moment, even more sense
that the body should not become static within a musical phrase.
During the first half
of the program, the audience clapped each time a dancer and a wheelchair
dancer partnered. By the second half, I was glad that the audience
had calmed down and seemed to agree that it was the whole gestalt
of the event that mattered. For one thing, I've never seen so many
people in wheelchairs attending a dance performance. As well, the
eight middle-school-aged dancers from the academy in Oak Park, who
performed Larry Ippel's "Beautiful Dance," demonstrated the importance
of the event. In this tender work set to Carlos Nakai's flute rendition
of "Amazing Grace," there were two young wheelchair dancers. At
one moment, teenager Victoria Raymond's wheelchair was being pushed
so quickly, a shy smile formed on her face. It looked as if she
were moving faster and more freely than those performing jetes.
There was an abundance
of nuanced musical phrasing when former Martha Graham company member
Sandra Kaufmann performed a duet with Kris Lenzo, "Ashes." Choreographed
by Tom Trimble with Johannah Wininsky, it is set to Gorecki's "Symphony
No. 3 'Lento e Largo.'" In a program including dancers of varying
levels, Kaufmann's subtle lyricism and Lenzo's incredible strength
stood out. Sandra Kaufmann is a superb performer. I remember seeing
her early in her career in Graham's "Celebration." There, her joy
was addictive. Kaufmann's body was seasoned by Graham, but she wasn't
hardened by that work. Here, in "Ashes," nothing is overblown, nor
is it understated. Simplicity and grace reign, and Kaufmann is entirely
focused yet ethereal at the same time. She catches just the right
atmosphere of this woman and her lover. Kris Lenzo is a kind of
otherworldly man, suspended above the stage in a harness. As the
piece begins, Kaufmann hangs from Lenzo's arms. The effect is sublime.
Lenzo holds her far above the stage, and her body becomes a pendulum.
He lets her down. She runs away only to return. He lifts her by
her left ankle and her right arm, she rotates over her body and
back again, forming the shape of a fish dive. Then he quickly tucks
her up into his arms, which is surprising after all this fluidity.
I thought I wouldn't be able to stand it if he ever let her go.
But he does, gently, painfully. Although Lenzo abandons Kaufmann
to the Earth, I imagined that her fluttering body had joined the
wind. In "Ashes," it isn't readily apparent that Lenzo does not
have legs. But this knowledge makes his strength even more formidable.
He has no legs to use as leverage while lifting Kaufmann. Only the
harness holds him above the stage. Brute strength is impressive,
but cast against Kaufmann's simple grace it is stunning.
While a dancer in New York City, Renee E. D'Aoust trained at
the Martha Graham Center and performed with the Kevin Wynn Collection
and other companies. She subsequently graduated from Columbia University
(BA) and the University of Notre Dame (MFA). For her writing, which
has been published in many literary journals, D'Aoust has received
Idaho Arts Commission grants, the Julie Harris Award for Emerging
Playwrights, and other awards. The first chapter, "Graham Crackers,"
of her current book project, Body of a Dancer, received an Associated
Writers Program nonfiction award.