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The Schmooze

When Disability Is No Barrier to Dance

Heidi Latsky, head of Heidi Latsky Dance and creator of The Gimp Project is about to end her one-year artist-in-residency at the JCC in Manhattan. After months of rehearsals, workshops with everyone from preschoolers to seniors, and tidbit performances in the lobby and other spaces in the JCC building, Latsky‘s final offering is “IF: A Work in Two Parts.”

The first piece features Ms. Latsky, Jeffery Freeze and Suleiman Rifai, a professional dancer who is also blind. The movements are slow and deliberate. At first, the three move separately, standing at different levels, before Ms. Latsky finds her way to a wall where she meets Mr. Rifai. The wall becomes an inseparable part of the performance as the dancers interact with it and each other. The piece, however, is an internal exploration and not a fully formed work. When Ms. Latsky finally breaks out into solo movement, which was later revealed as a complete improvisation, it is a welcome relief from the stillness and tension.

The second part of “IF” is a glorious contrast to the first, and in many ways its exact opposite. Sixteen dancers fill the stage, most of them on chairs, one on roller skates (David Linton), and one is in a wheel chair (Simi Linton). They sit still for a long time, wearing colorful t-shirts. The dance sequences begin in different parts of the space, until the dancers begin to move together. It then becomes clear that half of the dancers are physically challenged or disabled in some way.

There is a dancer well into her pregnancy (Amber Gonzales), an amputee (Elfie Kecht), and a deaf dancer (Thomas Vallette), among others. It is those bodies that call our attention and that are most fascinating to watch. Meanwhile, Latsky keeps her trained dancers confined to their chairs. For a few moments, it’s not clear who is more mobile, the confined able-bodies or the disabled ones who are so clearly used to such difficulties and can more easily transcend them.

In “IF,” Latsky and her company challenge the status quo of what dance is and who is a dancer. At the talkback after the performance on December 11, Latsky said she was trying to peel layers of training and habit from herself and her dancers so that they could all risk something new, emotionally, physically and intellectually. By creating a rich tapestry of metaphor and gesture as well as seeking to expose our humanity rather than relying on choreography, she achieves all three.

Watch an introduction to ‘The Gimp Project’:

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