In perhaps their most memorable production to date, Bodiography Contemporary Ballet premiered “Heart (function vs. emotion)” at the Byham Theater this past weekend.
The project itself began last year when Dr. McNamara of the UPMC Cardiovascular Institute approached Artistic Director of BCB, Maria Caruso, with the idea for this unique collaboration.
Intrigued by the idea, Caruso dove in head first. Determined to educate herself on issues facing heart transplant and PAH patients, she was soon meeting with doctors and patients, eventually even observing a heart transplant.
Her time and investment paid off, as the performers (company members, patients, and UPMC heart surgeon, Dr. Kormos) left their hearts on the stage in this stunning production.
Act One, “Function,” was choreographed as an artistic representation of the actual functioning of the heart.
The piece opened with a snapshot of the patients on stage, and dancer Colleen Landwerlen setting the stage for what would come.
Live musicians, Cello Fury, lined the back of the stage playing the slow and steady rhythm of a heartbeat on their instruments. The audience was immediately drawn in, unaccustomed to seeing non-dancers fill the stage of the Byham Theater, and moved by the sheer beauty of real people sharing their individual stories.
The dance was a slow build of ballet vocabulary infused with surgical movements and gestures that the patients believed to be representative of their feelings surrounding their illness.
Company members swept across the stage as blood moving through arteries. Knees flexed and extended as the thump of a heart beating. Chests caved and opened. Performers lifted and carried one another, sharing the weight of their pain.
The highlight of Act One came when Caruso performed an inspiring solo. Constricted by long red fabric that kept her movement bound and confined, she traveled across the stage with the feeling and emotion that only a dancer of her caliber and maturity could perform. With the stellar technique of a highly trained ballerina or professional modern dancer, one would swear that Caruso could perform any style of dance with absolute precision.
Act Two of the show, “Emotion,” began with a demonstration of the preparation for and actual operation of heart transplantation, performed by Dr. Kormos and Caruso. The second half allowed the dancers to portray the patients’ experience with heart disease through their physical interpretation.
One patient, Pasquale Deblasio, described “grotesque twitchings” he experienced in childhood as a result of a bout with chorea. His partners in the dance, Kelly Basil and Mara Mandradjieff, then developed these movements into choreographed material for the show.
Another patient, Philip Rostek, drew on his own creative side and illustrated his experience on an easel as his dancer moved across the stage. As a painter, he is very much interested in the relationship between art and health. He believes that playing the piano, doing artwork and writing poetry has helped in his recovery. He says that, “it is perhaps closer to the significance of diet and exercise than we might suspect.”
After the show, Dr. Kormos explained to the audience how this kind of performance was completely out of his (and the patients’) element, and described the incredible “ingenuity and energy” of Caruso to put together such a show. He described the process as a “bucket list moment.”
Listening to the company members, patients, and doctors speak about what the process meant to them brought about a mix of heart warming content and hope for those continuing to struggle with their disease.
For Caruso, whose goal was to “articulate the beauty of the heart,” while “raising awareness that has relevance to a community,” we are quite positive that this was only the beginning of a new journey for her artistry. Bodiography has achieved new heights, leaving the audience and cast distinctively touched to their very core.