Ballet gets an equitable contemporary upgrade in Abilities Dance’s production performed virtually and in person on November 4 and 5. The nonprofit dance company that includes and celebrates dancers with disabilities takes back the dance genre that has long excluded them by creating an entirely new ballet designed to utilize dancers of all kinds.
“What would it look like if we created a ballet that included us from the beginning?” says Ellice Paterson, Abilities Dance founder/executive & artistic director, choreographer of ‘Inversion’ and Brookline resident. “Whether it be dancers or longtime dance professionals or just the average audience thinking that we don’t belong in ballet, I think it’s important to note that we are able to and that ballet has had this very long and complicated history that has excluded so many of us.”
“Inversion” will be structured in a series of narrative vignettes that weave together as the show progresses. Paterson and music director Andrew Choe brainstormed themes such as ableism, white feminism, and neurodivergence and brought them to the larger company. After dialogues about these issues, the company co-choreographed the piece based on each dancer’s abilities and experiences.
As a woman of color, Patterson felt strongly that the relationship between race and disability was important to analyze in this ballet.
“A lot of the most intense ableism that I’ve experienced has actually come from nondisabled BIPOC leaders, particularly in racial equity space, because they think that racism is the most important system of oppression to dismantle. Which it absolutely is,” says Patterson. “But without thinking about these other intersecting identities that are marginalizing the community even more so, with only supporting a few folks that identify in the community, that’s still a version of white supremacy.” She utilizes the choreography, costumes, and music to delve into this and other themes throughout “Inversion.”
This piece is one of the most collaborative creative efforts to come out of Abilities Dance thus far. The company partnered with Gateway Arts, a nonprofit visual arts organization serving developmentally disabled artists, to create five canvas backdrops that further illustrate the ballet’s themes. Local musicians will perform the original music, composed by Choe, live during the production. Paterson has also been working on a special aerial performance in partnership with Commonwealth Circus.
To maximize accessibility, the ballet will be streamed online and in person, and both iterations will include audio descriptions, captions, and ASL interpretations. Free tickets are also available to break down economic barriers to the arts.
Paterson hopes the ballet opens the audience’s eyes to the broader possibilities of dance. “I hope they can see a future of ballet and our dance industry as a whole being more inclusive to not only who’s on stage but who’s in leadership and designing stories.”