Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story): Bodiography Contemporary Ballet’s Newest Dance Premiere

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By Christopher Cussat

Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story) is the newest and perhaps most powerful modern ballet yet to be presented by Bodiography Contemporary Ballet. Written and choreographed by Bodiography Artistic Director, Maria Caruso, the premieres of Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story) will be performed at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh on two nights, February 21 and 22, 2014, at 8:00 p.m.

Bodiography’s long history of partnering with patients is continued with this original piece that highlights the struggle and the daily victory of people overcoming adversity—particularly those living with Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s causes many physical manifestations including episodes of freezing, being unable to move, stiffness, rigidity, and falls. Dance has recently been utilized to help Parkinson’s patients maintain a sense of balance and freer movement.

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With development beginning in 2012, Left Leg, Right Brain is an original collaborative work between Caruso and multi-media artist, Frank Ferraro. Their collaboration will tell the story of how Ferraro channels the power of creating art as a means to overcome the degenerative effects of living with Parkinson’s Disease. “I live my life every day by placing trust in my imagination and allowing it to release me from my physical body. By creating art, I am able to focus not on the losses in my life, but on the new beginnings,” says Ferraro.

The title of the work reflects the fact that Ferraro’s left leg can drag behind, almost as if it was nailed to the floor. “For many, living with a degenerative, incurable disease can be like nailing one foot to the floor, forcing the patient to walk in circles and focusing all of their energy on the lack of possibilities in life. The right brain, with its lack of rational thought and its focus on creativity, can be used to liberate the left leg,” Ferraro explains.

Caruso and Ferraro have worked on creative ways to transform the realities of Parkinson’s Disease into dance. Snippets captured include:

The degenerative process itself:  The entire company is performing at the beginning of the full-length work, indicating the body’s full neuromuscular potential. As the disease slowly strips away physical capabilities, the number of dancers on stage will also dwindle, leaving a solo dancer on stage at the end of the piece.

The increasing number of medications taken by Parkinson’s Disease patients:  “In 2009, I was taking five pills a day—today, just four years later, I am taking 14 per day,” says Ferraro. Together with Musical Director, Tom Octave, who is continuing his collaboration with Bodiography from Whispers of Light (2013), Caruso and Ferraro create a complete, rhythm-dance track using medication bottles as percussion shakers—counting out rhythms by the number of pills each day. The dance then becomes more than a reminder of how many medications must be taken, and instead morphs into a wild, percussive, energizing dance—a drum-circle of life.

The need to relearn physical skills daily as the disease progresses:  Simple actions like putting a twist-tie on a loaf of bread must be reinvented as the detailed use of the fingers disintegrates. The dance also reflects new approaches to daily pedestrian motions.

Perception by others versus self-perception:  Necessary medications for muscle control alter the physical posture of an individual. The public’s perception of an individual taking Parkinson’s Disease medication can be that the person is under the influence of an intoxicant. To a Parkinson’s patient, this is a liberation—as if life has entered the body creating what Ferraro calls, “a high octane moment”—a welcome break from not being able to move.

To highlight Ferraro’s artistic expertise, a variety of film excerpts will accompany the dancers. This video footage will allow the audience to view different perspectives of his life and the dancers will become a representation of multiple aspects of his physical self. The score for the work is rooted in the arrangement of jazz and blues sounds, from a collection of works by the extraordinary pianist, Craig Davis. Under the direction of Thomas Octave, this evening of movement is elegantly woven together by the live performance of the Craig Davis Jazz Ensemble, the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra, and a guest appearance by WQED’s, Anna Singer.

Through this collaboration, Caruso has again engaged her unique creative research process with the artists of Bodiography as participants in learning and defining the physical restrictions of the disease. Caruso has exhibited strong commitment to researching choreographic work directly with the patients and participants that experience the ailments highlighted in her ballets. Together with Ferraro, she will use these opportunities to glean dialogue as well as physical notation and video documentation to serve as the underpinning for the proposed work.

To celebrate the joy of movement and offer activity options for those with movement difficulty, Pittsburgh’s premiere, health-focused, dance company, Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, will be launching their trademarked Bodiography Movement Therapy® program for a variety of diagnoses following the premiere of this new full-length ballet. This creative process began a year ago and Caruso intends to continue with community efforts beyond the performance by hosting Bodiography Movement Therapy® classes at Bodiography Center for Movement. Company Artist, Melissa Tyler, will begin the courses in April 2014 and she is one of the first to be trained in Caruso’s Bodiography Movement Therapy® method.

For more information about Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, please visit: www.bodiographycbc.com. For tickets to Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story), call: 412-456-6666.