Alice Sheppard Kinetic Light HWS Residency 2022

Laurel Lawson leading Disability & Technology workshop Sep. 2, 2022. Photo by Kevin Colton.

Year: 2021-2022
DanceForce Member: Cynthia Williams
DanceForce Partnering Member: Ivan Sygoda
Artists: Alice Sheppard, Laurel Lawson
Community Partners: Hobart & William Smith Colleges Dance Department; Hobart & William Smith Colleges Education Department
Audience: 251
County: Ontario

The goal of the project was to introduce the disability arts ensemble Kinetic Light to the Geneva, NY community and present workshops focused on disability aesthetics, access, integrated movement, and disability and technology, followed by a September 3 performance of “Under Momentum.”

Kinetic Light was in residence for 5 days, teaching, rehearsing, and working. Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson were the two Kinetic Light artists of “Under Momentum.” Between August 30 and September 2 they presented 4 workshops: Hospitality and Access, for front of house workers; Disability Aesthetics for artists and cultural workers; Movement Description; and Disability and Technology. A “meet and greet” followed the performance in place of an audience artist talkback.

Collaboration with the HWS Education department was successful with many Education students in courses relating to education and disability present at the workshops and performance; faculty from Dance, Education, and Theatre were also present throughout. Sheppard and Lawson are excellent teachers, presenting material in engaging and informative ways. One faculty member described them as “consummate educators, devoted to human rights activism through educational and artist means,” noting “their art…was as educational as it was profoundly aesthetic…” Another noted that the Hospitality and Access workshop “…has already facilitated discussions among Theatre faculty about how we can shift our practices surrounding matters of accessibility and justice…putting accessibility into practice,” with another adding “Laurel’s comment that hospitality plus equity equals access” was “transformative.”
The Movement Description workshop offered in place of the planned Integrated Dance workshop was a treat for the faculty and students who attended it, bringing awareness of various levels of audio description into practice. Kinetic Light is advancing the field in terms of movement description and participants explored multiple formats and practices. Workshops on Disability Aesthetics and Disability and Technology were primarily lecture-based in format.

The culmination of the project was “Under Momentum,” a duet for Sheppard and Lawson that “celebrates the joy of being in continual motion, the allure of speed, and the beautiful futility of resisting gravity…The program of solos and duets ranges through explorations of balance, stillness, and falls as Lawson and Sheppard release into the forces of acceleration, gravity, and torque.” With exquisite lighting designed by Michael Maag, “Under Momentum” is at times kinesthetically thrilling, emotionally poignant, and visually compelling—it was a profoundly moving experience.

The project challenged us to rethink accessibility on multiple levels and to move beyond accommodation to welcoming and joyful accessibility. We made several changes to our protocol: ASL interpreter on site, sensory kits, a quiet room, multiple usher/docents in notable shirts, open lobby space, and accessible pathways into the concert: Audimance, haptics, publicity with image descriptions, and attention to physical space details. While the audience did not represent the full spectrum of diversity we hoped for, we now have more protocols in place for the next concert, and a greater awareness of what we need to do to offer welcoming and accessible experiences to all participants.