I just saw the dance performance GIMP this evening – one of the events of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival, theme = The Body.

GIMP is one of Heidi Latsky’s projects.  She is a dancer, choreographer, and founded a dance company – Heidi Latsky Dance – based in New York.  This project, one that apparently grew out of another of her projects exploring her own bodily limbs, consists of abled and disabled dancers.  I was really looking forward to this performance.  I wanted to see what the performance could offer in terms of exploring the continuum of ability, but I was more or less disappointed.

The beginning of the performance was a line up of the dancers with some of them wearing pithy t-shirts like “Let’s get ready to stumble” and “Keep staring and I might do a trick.”  I liked these t-shirts a lot.  The 6 dancers all in a line were easily comparable; I was searching their bodies for difference.  How did their movements reflect or depart from each others?  It seemed at this point that the majority of the dancers were abled.  However, during one of the dancer’s solo performance on stage, i noticed that one of her hands was deformed.  This woman who I originally counted in the abled camp had a difference I had not noticed.  She danced by herself on the stage, emphasizing her hand and its way of moving.

A majority of the dancers were abled including the choreographer.  She claimed in the talk back that she worked with the disabled dancers to discover movements of theirs that were challenging to her, but it did not seem that this was actually in the performance.  The dancers were dancing like dancers – it did not seem that their bodies were challenged to do something different than they were used to.  It made me question the way the performance was put together and what the use of disabled people was really for.

I am not saying that it is a problem for abled people to participate in a disabled performance, but the movements of the “dancer” dancers and the “disabled” dancers were emphatically different.  The disbled dancers seemed to serve a different function than the “dancer” dancers.  This made me uncomfortable to an extent.  Were these dancers with unusual bodies and movements being put on display?  Or, were they simply choosing to share their vulnerable bodies to a public?  What is and should be the role of the choreographer in this sort of situation?  Must physical difference always be emphasized?

I wonder how self-conscious the performance and performers were?  As one of the dancers told us as he broke through the 4th wall: “We thought you were all going to be weird but you’re beautiful.”  Was that a way to convince us and them that we are all beautiful humans?

To learn more about the GIMP project, click here.  And for Heidi Latsky Dance, click here.

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