Karen Peterson Dancers to Premiere Commission at Forward Motion Dance Festival

Written By Sean Erwin for ARTBURST MIAMI

Karen Peterson Dancers in “Time Being” by Victoria Marks are, from left, Adam Eckstat, Sun Young Park, Marjorie Burnett, Karen Peterson, and Shawn Buller (Photo courtesy of Lisa Nalvin)

Physically integrated (PI) dance brings together disabled and non-disabled dancers in choreographies bent on challenging notions of who can and can’t dance and what constitutes beautiful movement.

Miami’s Forward Motion Dance Festival showcases the nation’s top PI dance companies. Now in its fourth year,  performances are set for Thursday, Oct. 27 and Friday, Oct. 28 at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. Workshops and lectures on PI dance technique are Saturday, Oct. 29 at Miami-Dade College’s Koubek Center.

Choreographer Karen Peterson, artistic and executive director of Miami’s physically integrated dance company, Karen Peterson Dancers – organized the first Forward Motion Dance Festival in 2018, bringing to Miami PI dance companies from across the nation.

This year, Peterson’s company premieres a commission by Victoria Marks – Guggenheim Fellow and Alpert Award-winning choreographer, filmmaker, scholar and activist.  She is also a professor at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and director of the school’s Dancing Disability Lab.

Marks is known for PI choreographies organized around the politics of citizenship and disability and her contribution to the festival is original choreography for Karen Peterson Dancers entitled, “Time Being.”

The work grew out of a three-way collaboration between Marks, KPD dancers and Onikho – an Oakland-based indie electronic artist and producer who wrote her debut EP after becoming paralyzed in a car accident in 2014.

Full Radius Dance duo Peter L. Trojic and Juliana Feracota. (Photo courtesy of Bubba Carr)

“I thought that setting a piece by Victoria Marks on my group would benefit my group,” said Peterson.   “And then we always wanted to find a composer who also had a disability, and we found someone in San Francisco, Carina Ho, whose artistic name is Onikho.  Victoria and Onikho created the score conjointly.”

Onikho will join dancers onstage during the debut of “Time Being,” performing original music and live vocals alongside KPD dancers Shawn Buller, Marjorie Burnett, Adam Eckstat, Barney Espinal and Sun Young Park.

The words for the score grew from a discussion on Zoom that Marks had with KPD dancers last July. Marks then gave the score to Onikho who set it to music.

“Often a composer will just give us a piece and tell us to create a dance,” says Peterson.  “When there’s a three-way interaction, you have a much deeper relationship between the choreographer, composer and the dancers.”

Marks explained that the goal of her choreographic process is not to impose a dance on the performers but to listen for the dance that is in the room.

Victoria Marks collaborated with Karen Peterson Dancers and a San Francisco composer for the commission “Time Being” (Photo courtesy of UCLA)

“I pay attention to what’s going on and the aspiration in the room.  I aim to make a dance that is a gift, a kind of portrait of the dancers,” explains Marks.  “It’s not a terribly scientific process, but it’s not like I come to the dancers with a dance I want to make.”

Peterson remembers the Zoom call.

“Victoria asked them to close their eyes and think about their favorite day and the sensations that came to mind.  She then asked them about the most difficult thing they do in their wheelchair.  She elicited very personal answers to these questions.  She didn’t know us at all, so she tried to get us much information about as people as she could.”

“Time Being” is organized around the life-enhancing possibilities of wheelchair movement.

“There are five dancers in the dance and three of the dancers perform in wheelchairs and two are non-disabled.  I thought, what is it that wheelchairs can do that’s amazing – how is it an asset and how is there pleasure in a wheelchair?” she recalls asking herself.

Marks will also teach a workshop on the process she calls “Choreo-Portraiture on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Miami Dade College’s Koubek Center.

“Thinking about dance and disability I work on remaining tuned in to the political and social concerns that circulate with PI dance,” says Marks.   “The experience of dancers with disabilities is an opportunity for everyone to learn about living in a body.  The question that is potentially on the table is what could happen if our way of seeing or apprehending was shifted to grow attuned with how our bodies are constantly in transformation.”

Marks’ passion in the pursuit of her art is the possibility it presents for social and political change.

“Can our physical imaginations elevate equity for all of us?” she asks.

Also at this year’s festival is a first-time participant, Full Radius Dance Company from Atlanta.

FRD was founded by Douglas Scott, artistic and executive director, in 1990 as a traditional dance company, but it quickly shifted focus to include disabled dancers. Peterson says she connected with FRD through a series of workshops organized by Dance/USA, a national service organization for professional dance.

The group will perform two works. The first, “Alice, Peter and Dorothy,” examines the fantasy novels – “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter and Wendy,” and “The Wizard of Oz” – through a disability-centric lens.

Douglas arranged the work for six dancers, two chair dancers, and four able-bodied.  It will be danced by FRD company dancers AK Bayer, Julianna Feracota, Courtney Michelle McClendon, Ashlee Jo Ramsey-Borunov, Matthew Smith, and Peter Trojic.

Also in its program is “Undercurrents,” a 25-minute piece, performed by the same dancers and set to the music of Andrew Choe, the music director and composer for Abilities Dance Boston.  The work investigates relationships, how partnerships form and dissolve and where subtle shifts between people reveal hidden feelings and impulses below the surface.

WHAT: Fourth Annual Forward Motion Physically Integrated Dance Festival and Conference, Performances and Workshops

WHEN: Performances at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 27 and Friday, Oct. 28. Workshop and conference, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29.

WHERE:  Miami Dade County Auditorium, 2901 West Flagler Street, Miami. Workshop and conference at the Koubek Center-Miami Dade College, 2705 SW 3rd Street, Miami

COST: $25, $18 for students with identification, seniors 65 and older and people with disabilities. Workshops and conference, $20, $10.

INFORMATION: karenpetersondancers.org

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Empty chairs act as a centerpiece for “Time-Being” by Victoria Marks, created for Karen Peterson Dancers, set to be performed as part of the Forward Motion Dance Festival at Miami-Dade County Auditorium. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Nalvin)
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