Finding Joy in Movement
A new documentary captures Mark Morris’ wildly successful Dance for PD program.
David Leventhal leading a Dance for PD class. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy Leventhal.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2003, Joy Esterberg struggles daily with several neurological and motor-related symptoms: “mushy arms” that don’t move properly, a slower gait and, if her medications aren’t working, fatigue. Though these issues will probably never disappear, she has found some relief through dancing. “It has made me feel different about my body,” says Esterberg, a participant of Mark Morris Dance Group’s Dance for PD program. “And it’s helped me mentally. I feel I’m on top of my Parkinson’s because I can dance.”
This month, “Capturing Grace,” a documentary by David Iverson that spotlights Dance for PD, will air on PBS (check local listings for dates). The film follows 17 men and women, ages 50 to 83, during one year of classes that culminate in a performance.
With about a million individuals living with Parkinson’s disease in the U.S. and an estimated 7 to 10 million worldwide, movement programs to treat PD are growing. Dance for PD at Mark Morris, founded in 2001, was one of the first of its kind. It began as a once-a-month class for about six people, led by then-MMDG dancers David Leventhal and John Heginbotham. Today, the curriculum is taught in 36 states, plus countries abroad, at institutions like Canada’s National Ballet School, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and English National Ballet.
Dance for PD’s one-hour class begins with a seated warm-up. Gradually, elements of ballet, modern, jazz, tap, folk and improvisation are integrated. Students progress to the barre and move across the floor if it’s feasible. Classes focus on storytelling, gesture and brain-stimulating exercises like mirroring and experimenting with ways to use the feet. “Participants move with increased grace, confidence and musicality, and we notice a change of attitude,” says Leventhal.
Outside of the studio, many are able to more easily accomplish everyday activities that had become laborious because of the disease. “The film not only conveys the physical grace our dancers have gained, but also illustrates the grace they have in life—turning challenges into transformations,” says Leventhal.
At the Dance for PD performance caught on film, participants danced a duet choreographed by Heginbotham and excerpts from Morris’ Mozart Dances and Four Saints in Three Acts. “The most beautiful part was seeing these people revealed as themselves,” says Leventhal. “Projects like this happen because of people’s need to connect to humanity.”—Karen Carlo Ruhren
ADI Shifts Focus
American Dance Institute in Rockville, Maryland, will close its school—founded in 2000 by former American Ballet Theatre dancer Pamela Booth Bjerknes and former Joffrey Ballet dancer Michael Bjerknes—at the end of the summer to focus on presenting contemporary dance. Executive director Adrienne Willis plans to expand ADI’s Incubator residency program, presenting artists in partnership with New York City theater The Kitchen. The 2015–16 season will include premieres by Yvonne Rainer, Jane Comfort, Brian Brooks, Jack Ferver and Susan Marshall. To help displaced students, an ADI Future Artists Scholarship Fund will cover select dancers’ tuition at the school of their choosing. —Kristin Schwab
In the Works
In Your Arms
Singing is nice; so is acting. But let’s face it: We mostly see musicals to take in all the glorious dancing. In Your Arms, with direction and choreography by Christopher Gattelli, will center around 10 love story dance vignettes that span many styles, from ballet to tango. The musical will premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, September 16–October 25. Will another dancey production make it to Broadway? Let’s hope the trend continues. —KS
Jess LeProtto and Samantha Sturm of In Your Arms. Photo by Buck Lewis, Courtesy Shameless Promotions.
News of Note
Comings & Goings
Hofesh Shechter has launched an apprentice company, Shechter Junior. ■ Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, founded by Nancy Laurie, will close this month. ■ BalletX is starting a fellowship program. In its first year, one choreographer will work with the company under mentor Trey McIntyre. Applications are due July 15: balletx.org/fellowship. ■ Cayetano Soto is now resident choreographer at Ballet BC. ■ Sarasota Ballet’s Juan Gil has been promoted to junior principal.
Awards & Honors
American Ballet Theatre’s Joseph Gorak has won a Leonore Annenberg Fellowship. ■ National Ballet of Canada’s
Hannah Fischer and San Francisco Ballet’s Carlo Di Lanno have won the Erik Bruhn Prize. ■ Dance/USA will honor Trisha Brown, Raven Wilkinson, Miami City Ballet founder Toby Lerner Ansin and Joyce Theater Foundation executive director Linda Shelton at its conference this month. ■ 2015 honorary degrees include: PHILADANCO artistic director Joan Myers Brown and Rita Moreno (University of Pennsylvania), Urban Bush Women artistic director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (Tufts University) and Jacob’s Pillow artistic director Ella Baff (College of the Holy Cross). ■ Garth Fagan has won Wayne State University’s Apple Award for theater work. ■ Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will honor William Forsythe at its Spotlight Ball this month.
From top: BalletX, Photo by William Hebert, Courtesy BalletX; Joseph Gorak, Photo by Renata Pavam, Courtesy ABT