"It was an interesting shift in my life," says the Seattle choreographer and dancer. "I had a lightweight sports chair and I did a video on movement in it for the company, in exchange for getting the chair for free. That began my exploration of movement in the chair to music."
Curtiss' dance company, Light Motion, which has performed throughout the country and abroad, this Saturday night will give a concert in Tucson featuring able-bodied dancers on their feet and disabled dancers in wheelchairs. Known as integrated dance, the relatively new art form allows for all sorts of unexpected movement; one New York Times reviewer said it has the "elegance of ice skating."
"You're working with counterbalance," Curtiss explains. "You pull away, you lean in. The chair can move without me having to push it." Adds Steve Anderson of Arts for All, the concert's local promoter, "If you're a 'stand-up,' there are certain things you can't do. Wheelchairs offer a whole new range of movement. A person standing gives a lunge to the wheelchair, and the body whips around the stage. It's pretty interesting stuff."
The performers not only will include Curtiss, seated in a wheelchair, and her non-wheelchair-using dance partner, Joanne Petroff. Also in their number will be members of Tucson's NEW ARTiculations and Zuzi! Move It modern dance troupes, and a dozen or more novice wheelchair dancers from the city. The locals got together with Light Motion for a Sunday workshop and have been in rehearsals all week. The program will be divided up between pieces that are solely Light Motion and pieces danced by the mixed group.
The collaboration, says Curtiss, might even help make wheelchair dance a permanent feature of the Tucson arts scene. "The new relationships that get built can carry on after we've left. People might continue to work in integrated dance."