'Counter Balance' highlights dances of inclusion

Artbeat

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

They see each other, unafraid to look into the other's eyes, connecting. They move fluidly, some on foot, some on wheels, gliding across the stage, lifted by the other's spirit. They reach, arms outstretched, inviting those who dance a similar dance. Though others live 6,000 miles away, they too connect. 

This is "Community," one of 12 dances that will be performed at Counter Balance on Sunday, a concert put on by Momenta Dance of Oak Park and Access Living of Chicago. The art form featured is called modern/contemporary integrated dance.

Integrated dance is open to all who want to move to music and may include dancers with a disability, those who use wheelchairs or contend with other physical impairments, those with mental health conditions or cognitive disabilities, as well as able-bodied dancers.

"People with and without disabilities alike are starting at the same place, recognizing that they each have strengths, they each have weaknesses, and creating something from that place," said Anita Fillmore Kenney, Momenta's associate executive director.

"Community" is choreographed by Ginger Lane, arts and culture project coordinator for Access Living, and artistic director of the Counter Balance concert. Lane is also a dancer who uses a wheelchair and wanted to create a piece to "embrace the wider world and the concept of a shared humanity."

In March, Lane traveled to Israel so the relatives of the people who sheltered her and her family in Germany during WWII could be honored with a Righteous Among the Nations designation. Through this, she connected with a dance company near Jerusalem, Vertigo – Power of Balance, which incorporates integrative dance. The result is a collaboration on stage between Momenta dancers, who perform live, and Vertigo's troupe, whose prerecorded improvised dance will be projected in the background.

One dancer performing in "Community," Suzen Riley, is a 55-year resident of Oak Park who is performing onstage for the first time. She is completing her third year on the Disability Access Commission for the village of Oak Park and uses a wheelchair. She said she has always wanted to dance, but has only taken workshops — until now.

"I feel a connectedness between me and the other dancers," Riley said. "It's about communication. I think of interconnectedness when I'm dancing."

The eighth annual Counter Balance show aims to reach all audiences, according to Fillmore Kenney, and is returning after a 2½ year break due to lack of funding. But this year, sourced through state funds, grants and private donors, with Momenta contributing a significant amount, the show will go on. Lane secured a venue, Center on Halsted, in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, which donated the space.

Guest artists include Dancing Wheels from Cleveland, a pioneer in the U.S. in integrated dance for 38 years. Also featured will be a performance of Butoh, or the "dance of utter darkness," a slow, expressive style developed in Japan.

Several MOMENTA works include ones choreographed by Fillmore Kenney and danced with Kris Lenzo, a longtime MOMENTA dancer who uses a wheelchair. They also appear in a short video documentary on the creation of an integrated dance piece.

"Relationship" will be performed by Exploration with Jessica Martin, who has Cerebral Palsy and gets out of her wheelchair and dances equal with her able-bodied partner, according to Fillmore Kenney. Martin has been dancing with Momenta for 10 years.

Fillmore Kenney hopes this concert may change perceptions for the audience.

"A person with a disability can do just as well as an able-bodied dancer," she said. "I also want them to recognize this as a legitimate art form. It's not about just 'including' people. It's about making art."

See "Counter Balance: The Power of Integrated Dance," Sunday, Sept. 9, at 3 p.m. at the Hoover-Leppen Theatre, Center on Halsted. $20; $15, seniors/students/people with disabilities; $5, age 10 and under. Tickets/more: momentadances.org/counter-balance-viii. Questions: 708-848-2329. All are invited to Inclusive Dance Workshops, Saturday, Sept. 8. Dancing Wheels session at 11 a.m. and Wannapa P-Eubanks Butoh-inspired workshop at noon. $10, suggested donation at the door. ASL interpretation provided. Both performance venue and workshop are accessible. 3656 N. Halsted, Chicago.

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