Dancing past a diagnosis

May 6th, 2015 by vb

By Carrie Seidman , Sarasota Herald-Tribune / Friday, April 10, 2015

What comes to mind when you think of a dancer?

A sylph-like ballerina in tutu and pointe shoes? An athlete with chiseled muscles and a leap that defies gravity? A posture-perfect couple in formalwear, gliding across a ballroom floor?

Maybe not a woman whose head and hands tremble irrepressibly from Parkinson’s disease. Or a man whose erratic, tip-toed walk signals the cerebral palsy he was diagnosed with at birth.

Yet two movies screening at the Sarasota Film Festival this week feature just such unconventional dancers. And make no mistake: Both “Capturing Grace,” which follows a group of patients with Parkinson’s disease preparing for a public performance, and “Enter the Faun,” which showcases the collaboration between a veteran choreographer and a young actor with cerebral palsy, are about dance, not disability.

Leymis Bolanos-Wilmott, director of Fuzion Dance Artists, leads one of her twice weekly classes at Parkinson Place for patients dealing with the neurological disease. / HT staff photo by Nick Adams

Leymis Bolanos-Wilmott, director of Fuzion Dance Artists, leads one of her twice weekly classes at Parkinson Place for patients dealing with the neurological disease. / HT staff photo by Nick Adams

Each documentary highlights the power of the professional dancer’s tools to overcome the accepted limitations of a neurological illness or disorder, and to inspire a sense of creativity, hope and community in those whose medical labels have become a self-fulfilling barricade.

“It’s about going back to the essence of dance, what dance was before it became a high art form,” says Fuzión Dance Artist director Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott, who teaches classes in Sarasota for people with Parkinson’s disease. “It’s dance as a natural impulse and an internal expression of joy, done in community. That, in itself, is healing.”

“Enter the Faun”

Daisy Wright and Tamar Rogoff’s “Enter the Faun” captures a similarly inspiring but entirely different journey toward an opening night performance.

In 2008, Rogoff, a veteran New York choreographer, invited 30-year-old Greg Mozgala, an aspiring actor diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy, to work with her in creating a piece that would explore the innate body intelligences that dancers, doctors and the disabled use to negotiate the world.

Greg Mozgala, a dancer with cerebral palsy who is the main subject in the Sarasota Film Festival documentary, "Enter the Faun." / Courtesy photo

Greg Mozgala, a dancer with cerebral palsy who is the main subject in the Sarasota Film Festival documentary, “Enter the Faun.” / Courtesy photo

At the time, Rogoff had no intention of changing Mozgala’s lurching gait or tip-toed walking; she simply wanted his own movement script to inform the work. But in the process of choreographing “Diagnosis of a Faun” — a dance based on the Roman myth of a figure who is half man, half goat, and that alludes to dancer/choreographer Vaslav Nijinksy’s iconic work, “Afternoon of a Faun” — that is exactly what happened.

Using a release technique Rogoff had learned long ago from a teacher with polio, Mozagala was able, for the first time in his life, to put his entire foot flat on the ground. For someone who had been told his entire life that his condition would only worsen, it was both liberating and disconcerting. For Rogoff, the transformation became the impetus for the creation of the film.

“It was shocking to see his heel come down,” Rogoff says. “When I saw the progress, that’s when I decided I had to document it. Greg is the actual proof of neuroplasticity. He’s walking proof that it can change.”

Rogoff contacted Wright, an editor with producing and directing experience whom she’s known for 15 years and who had collaborated with her on a previous film. The director combined hand-held diary footage recorded by Rogoff and Mozgala early in the dance’s evolution, with 100 hours of professional filming she shot to track Mozgala’s evolution and give the documentary continuity.

Choreographer Tamar Rogoff and dancer Greg Mozgala of "Enter the Faun," rehearsing in the studio. / Courtesy photo

Choreographer Tamar Rogoff and dancer Greg Mozgala of “Enter the Faun,” rehearsing in the studio. / Courtesy photo

The SFF screening is the world premiere of the film, but Rogoff’s work with Mozgala has already drawn plenty of attention. Acclaimed neurologist Oliver Sachs came to the studio to watch them work, a New York Times story drew more response than its writer had ever had to an article and Rogoff and Mozgala have demonstrated and spoken at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and cerebral palsy conferences.

The reaction from the CP and disability community was just as persistent, so Rogoff decided to “see how much of this could extend to other people.” They formed a group called the “Cerebral Posse,” composed of six adults with CP who meet once a month to do body work, talk about issues and interact with members of the medical community. Through the film’s website (www.enterthefaun.com) that concept has spread, with similar “posses” springing up as far away as Oregon, Poland and Australia.

Choreographer Tamar Rogoff / Courtesy photo

Choreographer Tamar Rogoff / Courtesy photo

Though she has no formal medical training and, in the early days, found working with Mozgala was sometimes frightening, Rogoff says the experience has made her believe dance has the potential to break through many engrained stereotypes of physical limitation.

“Part of the mission for me now as a dancer is to say to other dancers, you have no idea of how much you know,” she says. “Dancers have concentration, intuition, balance, a sense of the visual and of choreography. They have everything. We dancers have to catch up now and say, actually, we could be the solution to a lot of things. I think it’s just so evident.”

"Enter the Faun" co-director Daisy Wright / Courtesy photo

“Enter the Faun” co-director Daisy Wright / Courtesy photo

SEE THE FILMS
“Capturing Grace”: Special event April 13, 5:30 p.m. reception with Sarasota Ballet Artistic Director Iain Webb; 7 p.m. film. Florida Studio Theater’s Gompertz Theatre, 141 N. Palm. Tickets $50 VIP (reception), $14 (film only). Q & A with the director, Dave Iverson, the medical director of the Neuro Challenge Foundation, Dr. Dean Sutherland, and SFF head programmer Michael Dunaway follows the film. Additional screening at the Hollywood 20, 1993 Main St., 1:45 p.m. April 14 in Theatre 10.

“Enter the Faun”: 12:30 p.m. April 15 (Theatre 10) and 3 p.m. April 18 (Theatre 11) at the Hollywood 20. Tickets $14. Both Daisy Wright, director; Tamat Rogoff, director/choreographer; and film subject Gregg Mozgala will be in attendance. $14.

Tickets at Hollywood 20 Box Office, 366-6200, www.sarasotafilmfestival.org.

LOCAL CLASSES

Tamar Rogoff from “Enter the Faun” will teach workshops exploring methods of healing, moving, and choreographing, for dancers, healing arts practitioners and the medical community:

Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. at Sarasota Ballet Studio 20, 10 N. Lemon Ave. $15.

Tuesday, 6 – 7:30 p.m. at Arts and Cultural Alliance, 1226 N. Tamiami Trail. $15.

For information and reservations, call 586-5349.

Ongoing local classes for Parkinson’s patients

PD in Motion: Mondays 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m. at Sarasota Ballet Studio 20, 10 N. Lemon Ave; Lynn Hocker, instructor. Free. 383-1363.

Dance for Parkinson’s: Tuesdays and Thursdays 10-11 a.m. at Parkinson Place, 5969 Cattleridge Blvd. Suite 100. Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott, instructor. Free. 870-4438.

SEE THE FILMS

“Capturing Grace”:Special event April 13, 5:30 p.m. reception with Sarasota Ballet Artistic Director Iain Webb; 7 p.m. film. Florida Studio Theater’s Gompertz Theatre, 141 N. Palm. Tickets $50 VIP (reception), $14 (film only). Q & A with the director, Dave Iverson, the medical director of the Neuro Challenge Foundation, Dr. Dean Sutherland, and SFF head programmer Michael Dunaway follows the film. Additional screening at the Hollywood 20, 1993 Main St., 1:45 p.m. April 14 in Theatre 10.

“Enter the Faun”: 12:30 p.m. April 15 (Theatre 10) and 3 p.m. April 18 (Theatre 11) at the Hollywood 20. Tickets $14. Both Daisy Wright, director; Tamat Rogoff, director/choreographer; and film subject Gregg Mozgala will be in attendance. $14.

Tickets at Hollywood 20 Box Office, 366-6200, www.sarasotafilmfestival.org.

CARRIE SEIDMAN
Carrie Seidman has been a newspaper features writer, columnist and reviewer for 30 years…and a dancer for longer than that. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University Journalism School and is a former competitive ballroom dancer. Contact her via email, or at (941) 361-4834. Make sure to “Like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook for news and reviews of the arts.

Read the full article here: http://www.ticketsarasota.com/2015/04/10/dancing-past-a-diagnosis/425834/