Heidi Latsky Dance Upstate

GIMP by Heidi Latsky Photo by Darial Sneed
GIMP by Heidi Latsky
Photo by Darial Sneed

Year: 2013-2014
DanceForce Member: Ivan Sygoda
Artist: Heidi Latsky
Community Partners: Adaptive Sports Foundation (for Wounded Warriors), Catskill Mountain Foundation, The College at Brockport, University of Rochester
Audience: 211
Counties: Greene, Monroe

The 2013-14 season was the third and final year of my DanceForce commitment to Heidi Latsky and her Heidi Latsky Dance troupe of “mixed ability” performers. I made the commitment because I believe in the quality of the work—Heidi’s intelligence as a choreographer and her ability to craft movement that highlights the very real virtuosity of the sometimes “unexpected” (her word) bodies with whom she chooses to collaborate—and the validity and importance of her humanistic mission—to enhance the self-image of bodies with “imperfections” and to reverse the ghettoization which the rest of us half-consciously impose on them. The overarching goal was to make the talent and the thinking more broadly available upstate, upstate somewhat opportunistically because of pre-existing focal points of interest in Heidi’s work in certain academic communities, specifically Buffalo and Rochester. A more immediate goal was to move that interest beyond the “disability studies” departments where it originated to the broader dance community and, it was hoped, beyond that to the general performing arts audience. The strategy was to enlist local champions to proselytize within their home communities. In general, the problem was not interest, but follow-through. It could be tricky to assure effective action through layers of delegation. From this perspective, the current year was has been the most successful, especially in the case of SUNY/Brockport (a DanceForce member but not a partner on this project). Three factors contributed to this effectiveness: (a) as a DanceForce member through Jacqueline Davis, The College at Brockport “got it” institutionally; (b) Department of Dance Chair Kevin Warner made a personal and professional commitment to the project; and (c) fortuitous circumstances enabled Ivan Sygoda to participate in a face-to-face planning meeting at Brockport in September. This made it possible to represent Heidi’s priorities and interests more forcefully and to match class schedules and subjects with the company’s possibilities.

The major planning decision was to declare Thursday, February 14 “Brockport Day” in the middle of what was otherwise a University of Rochester performance residency. Since the theater at the University of Rochester was unavailable that day, Brockport made its Hartwell Dance Theatre available to the Latsky company for warm-up and rehearsal from 8:00am to 3:30pm.

Kevin and a graduate student met the company at their hotel in Rochester and provided transportation to Brockport. The Department provided a case of bottled water and a variety of snacks for the company throughout the day. A lec/dem for Brockport students about working with the physically disabled was scheduled for 9:30 – 10:45 am in Strasser Studio. Latsky showed video samples of the work and discussed her experience with disability and dance, touching upon both the rewards and the resistance experienced from both communities and how the company has dealt with that and other issues that have arisen during these last 7 years. Several dance technique classes participated in this lec/dem: two modern III/IV sections attended – a total of approximately 35 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as five faculty/staff. Open Company rehearsal in Hartwell Theatre was announced for 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. A total of approximately 20 students/faculty attended rehearsals on a “drop-in” basis. While a separate (Conference Room) lunch discussion was originally planned from 1:00 – 2:00, there were some challenges in coordinating this because of scheduling issues with the students. Instead, Latsky engaged students attending the Open Rehearsal in discussion at various times during the company rehearsal. From 2:00 – 3:15 pm in Strasser Studio Heidi offered a Master Class on performance skills that she calls The Beauty and Complexity of Simplicity in Choreography and Performance. Building on a simple task, Latsky directed the participants through a series of exercises to come up with a short piece of choreography that participants could perform for each other. This workshop is designed to enhance and illustrate a specific set of performance skills. Two undergraduate “intermediate composition” classes participated in this session, a total of 42 students. At 3:30pm, transportation back to the University of Rochester was provided by two graduate students.

By pre-arrangement, Brockport students and faculty were invited to attend, for only $5.00/ticket, the Heidi Latsky Dance performance at the University of Rochester Friday evening at 7:30pm. 15 students, as well as the Chair, two faculty members, and three adjunct faculty members from Brockport attended the performance. The Dept. of Dance at Brockport sponsored gas reimbursement for those students leading carpools to the performance.

This is the place to note that Bill Evans, a popular Brockport dance faculty member and a very seasoned performer, appeared with the Latsky company in the Rochester performance, taking the role usually danced by a company member with MS who was unable to make the trip.

The Catskill Mountain Foundation residency (May 28-31) also grafted outreach activities on a public performance (Saturday, May 31) supported by New York State Presenters. (See budget note.) Attendance for the performance is estimated to be approx. 80 people, including generous representation of the area’s senior citizens. Two workshops for special needs populations were scheduled, one for high school students (Thursday, May 29 from 12:30-3:00pm) and one for a group of female war veterans (“Wounded Warriors”) scheduled to begin Friday, May 30 at 4:30. It took a bit of doing to get each workshop scheduled and finalized. Catskill Mountain Foundation Executive Director Pam Weisberg, herself one of the original DanceForce members (Art Awareness in Lexington, NY), and with whom the Latsky company collaborated on last year’s DanceForce project, is experienced and committed and got the job done.

For the high school workshop at the Orpheum, there were three students with special needs and two teachers. The students witnessed company warm-up and rehearsal. They then joined the company on stage and participated in dance theater games and asked questions about the company. The dancers who led the workshop reported that the students were engaged and excited by the workshop and that the goal of engaging them both physically and intellectually was accomplished.

For the Wounded Warriors workshop (all women) at the Adaptive Sports Center, on Friday, there were about 25 participants and Heidi showed a twenty-minute excerpt of “Somewhere,” fielded questions about the work and then taught a breathing workshop. The company was also invited for dinner so that the conversation continued.