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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

The historic Downtown building reopens after a two-year, $100 million renovation.
The Section of Mystery: What’s behind the door?

The Section of Mystery: What’s behind the door?

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History opens new permanent exhibit featuring 3-D holograms.
Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

We break down each day of the festival so you don’t have to improv your way through it.
Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine has a backstage view of “Toruk: The First Flight,” which runs this week at Consol Energy Center.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Research led Kellee Maize to discover she is the daughter of the former teen singing sensation. Now she and McNichol are teaming up to develop a television series to help other parents and children find each other.
Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

One day, 18 roller coasters, four queasy stomachs, two cheeseburgers, one fried dough … whew.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

The historic Downtown building reopens after a two-year, $100 million renovation.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino of Cure and Morcilla organized the event, which featured celebrated chefs from DC, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

The restaurant and bar in Oakland welcomes college students and locals alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be more poised to establish a dynasty in 2016 than they were in 2009.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Vintage signs can add a pop of personality to your decor.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Reviews of "The Conjuring 2," "Warcraft," "Maggie's Plan," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

Honoring tradition at weddings is important for many couples, whether that means including heirlooms and unique customs or hosting a full-blown second ceremony.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

House15143 is Sewickley debuts “House Calls,” a mobile Airstream designed to bring the shopping experience to you (or an event near you).

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

The camp is a collaboration between two area universities and is open to students entering grades 9-12.

Comments