Karen Peterson Dancers first commissioned at Forward Motion Dance Festival

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Empty chairs serve as the centerpiece for Victoria Marks’ ‘Time-Being’, created for Karen Peterson Dancers, which will be performed as part of the Forward Motion Dance Festival at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium.

Courtesy of Lisa Nalvin

Physically Integrated (PI) dance brings together dancers with and without disabilities in choreographies that focus on difficult notions of who can and cannot 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 scheduled for Thursday, October 27 and Friday, October 28 at Miami-Dade County Auditorium. PI Dance Technique workshops and lectures will be held on Saturday, October 29 at the Koubek Center at Miami-Dade College.

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

This year, Peterson’s company is creating a commission from Victoria Marks – Guggenheim Fellow and Alpert Prize-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 her PI choreography organized around the politics of citizenship and disability and her contribution to the festival is an original choreography for Karen Peterson Dancers entitled “Time Being”.

The work was born out of a three-way collaboration between Marks, the KPD dancers, and Onikho – an Oakland-based freelance electronic artist and producer who wrote her first EP after being paralyzed in a car crash in 2014.

“I thought putting a Victoria Marks piece on my band would benefit my band,” Peterson said. “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 jointly.

Onikho will join the dancers on stage for 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 to the score grew out of a Zoom chat Marks had with the KPD dancers last July. Marks then gave the score to Onikho who set it to music.

“A lot of times a composer just gives us a piece and tells us to create a dance,” says Peterson. “When there is a three-way interaction, you have a much deeper relationship between the choreographer, the composer and the dancers.”

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

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

Peterson remembers the Zoom call.

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

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

“There are five dancers in the dance and three of the dancers perform in wheelchairs and two are not disabled. I thought, what can wheelchairs do that’s amazing? How is this an asset and what fun is there in a wheelchair? she remembers wondering.

Marks will also lead a workshop on the process she calls “Choreo-Portrait Saturday, October 29 at the Koubek Center at Miami Dade College.

“In thinking about dance and disability, I strive to stay tuned to the political and social concerns that flow with PI dance,” says Marks. “The experience of dancers with disabilities is an opportunity for everyone to learn to live in a body. The question that is potentially on the table is what might happen if our way of seeing or apprehending were changed to fit the way our bodies are constantly changing.

Marks’ passion in pursuing his art is the possibility it presents for social and political change.

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

Also at this year’s festival is first-time entrant Full Radius Dance Company of Atlanta.

FRD was founded by Douglas Scott, Artistic and Executive Director, in 1990 as a traditional dance company, but soon changed focus to include dancers with disabilities. Peterson says she connected to FRD through a series of workshops hosted by Dance/USA, a national service organization for professional dance.

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

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

Also on the program, “Undercurrents”, a 25-minute piece, performed by the same dancers and to music by Andrew Choe, musical director and composer of Abilities Dance Boston. The work studies relationships, how partnerships form and dissolve, and where subtle changes between people reveal feelings and impulses hidden beneath the surface.

ArtburstMiami.com is a non-profit source of information on dance, visual arts, music and the performing arts.

If you are going to

WHAT: Fourth Annual Forward Motion Integrated Physical 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 lecture at Koubek Center-Miami Dade College, 2705 SW 3rd Street, Miami

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

INFORMATION: karenpetersondancers.org

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