A Slowed Movement

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Co. works with Frank Ferraro to present “Left Leg, Right Brain,” which celebrates differences and shows the effect of Parkinson’s disease on movement.




Photo by Eric Rosé
 

When she met Frank Ferraro, the stars aligned for the enthusiastic Maria Caruso, artistic director of Squirrel Hill-based Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Co. The passionate and compassionate choreographer has penchants for education, philanthropy and social activism, and she embraces sensitive and serious subjects for her troupe’s health-themed productions. Her works have featured motifs such as transplant surgery and bereavement.

A ballet about Parkinson’s disease topped her short list before meeting Ferraro, a local visual/sound artist and Parkinson’s activist. More than a decade ago, the acclaimed stone sculptor developed the progressively degenerative nervous-system disorder that can be characterized by tremors, shuffling gait and slowed motor skills. He exchanged chisels and power tools to become a filmmaker and now creates work for theater; Ferraro’s films have been presented at the Three Rivers Arts Festival and elsewhere.

A mutual friend arranged the artistic match that sparked Caruso’s imagination and led to “Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story),” a full-length, one-act multimedia production inspired by the artist’s ingenuity and upbeat outlook.

“It was the right time for me to invest in one person’s story,” says Caruso, who regularly welcomes community participants into her process. “When [Ferraro] explained that his life is no different than anyone else’s — [that] he just does things differently — I knew immediately that I wanted to do a ballet about him.”

Bodiography’s production is carefully crafted to raise awareness by celebrating differences. It borrows its title from an essay in Ferraro’s “Between Light and Stillness,” an interactive book of poetry and prose dealing with his experiences with Parkinson’s, which initially attacks the body’s left side. Consequently, a person whose left leg is immobilized walks in physical and emotional circles, but the brain’s creative side provides liberation.

Caruso, who couples an eclectic dance vocabulary with a research-based creative process, interviewed Ferraro, consulted with medical professionals and conducted a workshop for Parkinson’s patients to gain insight into life with the disease.

Her signature approach extracts actions from participants, establishes a choreographic connection and reflects on the process. Dialogue is the key, she explains. “I ask a question to be answered with a series of gestures. I weave those gestures into a longer phrase, demonstrate it for the participant and examine his response. I listen to the feedback, and before I proceed with it, I teach the participant the phrase. When I know the participant is comfortable, I’m comfortable,” she says.

“Maria is an observer. Her process is quite fascinating,” says Ferraro, who worked with choreographers Melanie Miller and Jamie Erin Murphy on previous multidisciplinary projects. In Caruso’s ballet, Ferraro plays himself in a character part and contributes artistic expertise to the musical and video components.

“Maria is in charge. I respect her choices — otherwise I wouldn’t be working with her,” Ferraro says, admitting embarrassment at having his name in lights.

“The ballet articulates Frank’s experiences while speaking to an audience beyond the Parkinson’s population,” says Caruso, who appears in a cameo role. Last summer she developed choreographic phrases for her 15-member company and select dance majors from La Roche College, where she is chair of the Performing Arts Department; in December, she structured the ballet after choosing the music. Relying on musical nuances, she typically pinpoints common tempi, committing to music after hearing the completed score.

Thomas Octave, company musical director, arranged a bluesy, earthy score with classical intonations. He also will conduct the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra, which performs interactively onstage. When the orchestra obstructs the audience’s view, live-feed video of the dancers projects onto the cyclorama. The varied visual perspective illustrates the discrepancies between self and public perceptions of those with Parkinson’s, says Caruso.

The dancers “are using medicine boxes as percussive shakers,” she says, noting this rhythmic dance underscores the increasing need for medications as the disease progresses. To symbolize degeneration, the ballet opens with a full cast that dwindles to a soloist illuminated by the “last bit of light” as the curtain falls.

Bodiography, which tours nationally, launched in 2000 as a professional performing outlet for college-educated ballet dancers with atypical physiques; ensemble members share Caruso’s vision and passion to offer “something more than just dancing,” she says.

The troupe’s productions frequently serve as fundraising vehicles. In the future, Caruso envisions her ballets as “a platform — in the arts, medical and scientific communities — to provide education and outreach.” Via knowledge, she says, “We can be more patient, tolerant and proactive in supporting research, design and assistance in finding cures.”

"Left Leg, Right Brain" at the Byham Theater, Feb. 21-22; 101 Sixth St., downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org; bodiographycbc.com


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

With a tear in our eye, we bid the “Flower” Au Revoir.
Finally, a Faster Way From Pittsburgh to Oakland and Beyond

Finally, a Faster Way From Pittsburgh to Oakland and Beyond

A proposed route for new electric buses will connect 30,000 people throughout 24 neighborhoods.
Extras Wanted: Cate Blanchett Shooting Movie in Pittsburgh

Extras Wanted: Cate Blanchett Shooting Movie in Pittsburgh

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” a movie based on the best-selling comedic novel, will begin filming in the ‘Burgh next month.
What We Know about Anthony Bourdain’s Visit to Pittsburgh

What We Know about Anthony Bourdain’s Visit to Pittsburgh

While Bourdain and his crew aren’t talking, they left plenty of hints about what’s likely to be in the Pittsburgh episode of “Parts Unknown.”
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Best of the 'Burgh 2017

Host an event in Pittsburgh’s urban sustainable homestead. Join a club for mushroom hunters. Tour a coal mine. Listen to some banjo music. We list our new favorite experiences, food, drink, personalities, stores, items and activities in the ’Burgh.
Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Daytripping: The ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’

Fourteen years ago this month, the mighty Kinzua Viaduct met its match.
Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

Restaurant Review: The Café Carnegie

The restaurant, run by Dinette’s Sonja J. Finn, boosts the dining experience at the Carnegie museums in Oakland.
Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

Thrive: Smooth Moves While Getting Lost in the Music

FASTER Pittsburghʼs Hip Hop Cardio promises to get your workout into a groove.
Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

Curling in Pittsburgh: ‘It's Basically Golf and Chess on Ice’

On the eve of its largest annual event, the Pittsburgh Curling Club has plans to increase Pittsburgh’s appreciation for its intricate sport.
Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

Watch: Pittsburgh Penguins Video Tribute to Marc-André Fleury

With a tear in our eye, we bid the “Flower” Au Revoir.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Pusadee's Garden Will Close at End of Year (But Not Forever)

Look for some big changes at the Upper Lawrenceville restaurant, which is expected to shutter for at least a year.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

The North Shore landmark's new ropes course is a draw for adults and youths alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
History Can Wait Until Penguins Are Done Making It

History Can Wait Until Penguins Are Done Making It

The desire for more a year ago helped fuel the Penguins’ quest to repeat this season. Should their thirst for yet another Cup prove as unquenchable next season, there’s no limit to what they might yet achieve. Even a Three-peat.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

Make the Cut with Jonathan Moran Woodworks

The Strip District-based woodworker's cutting boards can be custom made with the wood of your choice.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Buckle Up ... Again, as Cars 3 Hits Theaters

Reviews of "Cars 3" and "47 Meters Down," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

Enchanting Summery Trends to Illuminate Your Wedding Palette

You’ll definitely want to pin these new summer wedding trends to your Pinterest board.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

Blooming: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Hosts Town & Country Tour

From a forest of Japanese maples to a rocky urban sanctuary, the annual tour covers 14 very different gardens across the East End.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

Visit Thiel College for a Summer BBQ

On three days this summer, the college will host visit days for prospective students.

Comments

Edit Module