It’s Not Always About Mobility: A Dance Concert by Abilities Dance Boston

Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston
Performed by Abilities Dance Boston 
Choreography and audio descriptions by Executive/Artistic Director Ellice Patterson
Audio descriptions edited by Amber Pearcy
Costumes designed by Laura Brody 
Music composed by Erin Rogers and Andrew Choe
Performers: Scynthia Charles, Janelle Diaz, Ellice Patterson, Lauren Sava

Thu. October 29, 8:00 PM
Live-streamed from The Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA.
Boston, MA 
Abilities Dance Boston on Facebook 

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Disclaimer: It’s election night 2020. This review is very late. Everything is stressful in this moment. So: we’ll correct mistakes and other issues in the morning. 

Boston, MA — Abled people don’t seem to understand that the intended purpose of assisted mobility devices is freedom. Wheelchairs, crutches, blind canes, and service animals* provide greater environmental access to the user. Hollywood perpetuates the myth that disabled people cannot move without their assisted mobility device. Disabled people can do a lot of things Hollywood doesn’t think they can do like run, sing, love, dance, work, swim, and fuck like champions. 

In reality, how and how often a mobility device is used is determined by the user. The user may not always need their wheelchair or they may always need it. Usage is determined by the user and their medical professional. An untrained, unknown abled adult should never tell a disabled adult how to use their mobility device. This is ableist and, frankly, none of their damn business. 

On Thursday, October 29, Abilities Dance Boston performed eight pieces live to streamed-audience from the Calderwood Pavilion. The stage was bare. The curtains and floor were black. The lightning design favored purples and oranges. The audience was empty. 

Three of the dances were choreographed for disabled dancers with assisted mobility devices. In “Parallel” with Janelle Diaz and Lauren Sava, a wheelchair was used. Ellice Patterson danced with a walker and crutches in her three pieces. It was glorious

In “Little Red Riding Hood” Ellice Patterson weilds her crutches like a martial artist their bo staff. They are her legs and she glides from pose to pose like a gazelle. She twirled with grace and ease. Her dance wasn’t just beautiful; Patterson looked like she was flying. I felt jealous because her dancing looked fun.  

Audio describers described the dances as they were streamed. The audience couldn’t opt out. The describers could learn a thing or two from ASL interpreters. ASL interpreters have earned public appreciation for being extra. They don’t forget their dramatic skills at home when they work a concert or show. (Amber Galloway Gallego is an ASL rockstar, and a shining example of bringing the funk when interpreting rap into ASL.) 

I greatly appreciate that audio description was available for the Abilities Dance Boston concert but the describers need to step up their game. A blind or visually impaired viewer will see what a describer says by how the describer says it. There is absolutely no good reason that a describer’s work shouldn’t parallel a dance’s drama. A flat voice leads to a bland experience but an energized voice that matches the brilliance onstage will encourage audience members to see another performance. Maybe even donate. 

Society pushes the disabled community to the fringes. We’ve been incarcerated, hidden, and infantilized for most of history, modern or otherwise. The disabled community is the largest minority and the least represented in public office or the media. The public gawks at us like ill-behaved children when we shop, date, ride the bus, teach, vote, or take a walk. So performing is a breath of fresh air. When we perform, we get to choose where, when, and how others see us. It’s another kind of freedom. 

Yet, many abled folk are discomforted seeing disabled people proudly taking the spotlight in a manner that respects our agency. An abled person might feel might concern, guilt, or anger. Your discomfort is part of the experience. It’s a brief example of how we feel navigating the world that isn’t designed or us. Try to enjoy your moment of empathy. 

All of the performers wore masks. If classically trained dancers can perform in a mask for 72 minutes while displaying athletic strength, agility, dexterity, flexibility, while still being beautiful then, Karen, you can wear a mask getting toilet paper in Costco. 

*Comfort animals are not recognized by the ADA.  

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