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The New Yorker "pick of the week" Heidi Latsky Dance: Disjointed

All the elements of Latsky's wide-ranging new ensemble piece, "Disjointed"-including the old-time music, the hats, the quivering arms, and Latsky's own turn as a living witness-relate back to her mother, who died of a brain tumor in December, 2004. In the starkly lit sanctuary of St. Mark's Church, surrounded by crumpled Kleenex, three dancers in black fight through stages of suffering and grief while a white-clad Greek chorus of thirty performs a joyful big-band hat parade and Latsky's signature 1993 solo, "Grace." Jeffrey Freeze does a shaky-armed solo to "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," Nathan Trice and Latsky dance a concentrated duet (guestchoreographed by Séan Curran), and Latsky performs a final, intense solo while an old film of her dancing-pregnant and topless-flickers on the altar. (Danspace Project, St. Mark's In-the-Bowery, Second Ave. at 10th St. 212-674-8194. May 11-14 at 8:30.) (top)

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Heidi Latsky Dance Troupe Pays Tribute to a Mother's Courage

By Jennifer Dunning Published: May 15, 2006

Sandra Latsky battled brain tumors for 35 years before dying in late 2004. Heidi Latsky, her daughter, who is a modern-dance choreographer and performer in New York City, paid tribute to that fight and to her mother's courage and humor in "Disjointed," a new full-evening piece performed by Heidi Latsky Dance on Saturday night at the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church.

The theater was littered with piles of tissues, some of them doubling as clouds later in the piece, in Kathy Kaufmann's subtle, fluid lighting design. The stage was filled with angelic figures, men and women dressed in loose-fitting white with arms frequently arched like wings. Later they return in a joyous processional to ballroom dance music, all wearing hats in a wild variety that the choreographer uses to allude to brain-tumor patients.

A man (Jeffrey Freeze) and a woman (Ms. Latsky), both dressed in black, find each other in the throng and engage in clinging duets with off-kilter partnering and high lifts, eventually alone onstage. An unthreatening figure of death (Nathan Trice), also in black, moves Ms. Latsky through a duet choreographed by Sean Curran but eventually claims the other man. In the last moments of the piece, set to a score by Frank Ponzio and Kym Serrano, a nude pregnant woman in a video by Alison Rootberg looms over the dim stage and Ms. Latsky's tiny live figure.

"Disjointed" is not the touching piece one might have expected, though it comes close when snatches of instrumental versions of popular songs and old radio sitcom chatter burst through the music. Instead, Ms. Latsky has managed to suggest the terrible essential loneliness of those who suffer serious long-term illness and those who care for them - with anger sometimes pushing through the love - and watch them dying. (top)

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A Daughter's Grief, Transformed on Stage

By JOY GOODWIN May 15, 2006

Something extraordinary happened this weekend at St. Mark's Church. Heidi Latsky, the former Bill T. Jones dancer turned feisty downtown choreographer, premiered a dance so impassioned - and so good - that the packed audience sat spellbound. Performed in a hushed, intimate, dimly lit sanctuary, this was a forceful, urgent tribute to a lost mother.

Ms. Latsky's mother, the program notes to "Disjointed" tell us, battled brain tumors for 35 years before her death a year ago. She had a "life-affirming sense of humor" and liked to wear hats, and "Disjointed" is set to the music she loved - good-time big band numbers, vigorous choral classics, and "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. "The subject of the dance is her deterioration, as observed by an ethereal Greek chorus of 30, a gentle caretaker (Nathan Trice), and a shellshocked witness (Ms. Latsky).

It is characteristic of Ms. Latsky that she should give the role based on her mother to a man, Nathan Freeze, her longtime associate director. Ms. Latsky has always treated personal experience as a starting point, and she has said that what compelled her to make a dance about her mother's death was the feeling it inspired of something epic - which is to say, something deep and shared. While conceiving "Disjointed," she conducted workshops with other cancer patients, families, doctors, nurses, AIDS sufferers, and young prisoners at Rikers Island. She was making a dance not simply about her own grief - though "Disjointed" is filled with indelible images of that - but about people who struggle, and the people who have to watch them struggle.

In this she has succeeded astonishingly. "Disjointed" begins when 30 white-clad figures of all shapes and sizes fan out across the shadowy sanctuary, surrounded by thousands of crumpled Kleenex. Each dancer stands in a fixed spot on the floor, performing a dance (Ms. Latsky's 1993 solo "Grace") in silent unison - elongating an arm, slowly raising a leg, running a palm along the chin, cupping a hand near the mouth. As they dance, there are sudden intakes of breath, abrupt shifts of weight. They gasp, as if some grief has knocked the wind out of them.

On the floor, front and center lies Ms. Latsky, all in black, absolutely still. As the chorus pauses another dancer in black, a man (Mr. Freeze) slowly raises one shaking, palsied arm. It is an unforgettable image: a quivering, diseased arm. And now Ms. Latsky stirs - a tiny body with a wild shock of dark hair, her arm tied to her neck by a long swath of brilliant red fabric. She dances angrily, insistently, until her mouth forms a scream. Then she unbinds her arm, dropping the fabric and turning abruptly away from it in the eerie half-light.

The duet that follows, surrounded by white angels, is remarkable for its blend of anger and tenderness. "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is playing, almost unbearably sweet, and the man's arm shakes uncontrollably while the woman dances to him, looking haunted. He picks her up in a series of exhausted lifts, while those otherworldly white creatures look on, then slowly wander offstage.

The music changes to a chorale, and now the duet gets physical. The two combatants lock biceps and elbows, slapped together like two halves of the same grieving person. They butt chests and fling themselves into spins. Both are compact, tiny people, but they fill the space with lifts so unusual and potent that you wish they would linger so you could admire them. But they quickly return to the fray, tugging on each other. They can't get free.

The wrenching duet is followed by a Glenn Miller parade of chorus members, de cked out in bright, fun hats, many of them belonging to Ms. Latsky's mother. This breezy interlude begets a goofy, broad solo set for Mr. Freeze that is peppered with Ms. Latsky's trademark vocabulary - powerful arms, stop-and-go sequences, lots of turns and one-foot balances. As Mr. Freeze takes a series bows, however, it's clear he's exhausted. He collapses, to be caught by the third and final black-clad dancer: Mr. Trice, playing a kind of beneficent caretaker.

But Mr. Freeze breaks free - he's not ready to accept that. He goes to Ms. Latsky, the daughter and witness, and though they are entwined only loosely, they dance as if their lives depended on it. Slowly she steps away from him, instead dancing a formal, lush duet (guest-choreographed by Sean Curran) with the new figure, the caretaker.

Left alone in a corner, Mr. Freeze stands, his arm quivering, until the caregiver comes to carry him away. Mr. Trice carries him gently, but without touching him with his hands - he keeps his palms carefully outstretched. And as they step away, leaving Ms. Latsky finally alone, she throws her head back wildly and lunges deep, scampering sideways across the floor like a crab. Her body is at war with itself until the final moment, when her hands rise up as if to crush her skull - a stark contrast with the film playing behind her, which shows a younger, happier Ms. Latsky dancing while pregnant.

"Disjointed" is a work of tremendous power. While watching, I wished I could wave a wand and make Ms. Latsky the director of a well-funded, year-round company. Yet a dance like this is inseparable from her process. Those 30 angels, so attentive and loving, are old friends from all stages of Ms. Latsky's dancing life; Mr. Freeze is a talented dancer of unorthodox body type who began his career as a muppet in "Sesame Street Live."

With "Disjointed," Ms. Latsky reminds us of the potential of downtown dance, and proves that a scrappy, intelligent choreographer and her talented, dedicated friends can occasionally produce astonishing and moving works of art. (top)

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Volume 5, Number 20 | May 18 -24, 2006

In Remembrance Of Me Heidi Latsky's Mother's Day gift at Danspace


Heidi Latsky's "Disjointed," which premiered at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, is a beautiful gift of love to her deceased mother. Sandra Latsky died a little over a year ago, following decades of struggle with brain tumors and neurological disability that ultimately disjointed her thinking and speaking. Her strikingly talented daughter, a scrappy latecomer to professional training, first started out in disco and jazz dance. Eventually she wound up with Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Jones' partner in life and art who died of AIDS. Today as we watch Latsky partner the elegantly muscular and lithe Nathan Trice - who is black - and the jazzy, rambunctious Jeffrey Freeze - who is white - we cannot help but think of Bill and Arnie. Pretty soon, we're not only enmeshed in Latsky's history, we're drifting through our own memories of vigils and loss.

"Disjointed" is saturated with Sandra Latsky, from the over-the-top accompaniment, selected from music she cherished, to the strutting chorus of dancers, each sporting a whimsical hat - some of which she wore - meant to reveal a jaunty spirit while concealing a physical wound.

The piece begins with lights down. We can hear a very brief, slightly muffled recording from a TV comedy bit, complete with laugh track, perhaps excerpted from a show that Latsky's mother had loved. Through this tiny detail, Latsky begins to draw us close to her mother. It's as if we've tiptoed into a darkened room where her mother has fallen asleep with the set on.

Piles of crumpled tissues resembling snowdrifts encircle the space, designed by Matthew Eggleton. Dancers are stationed across the floor, along the risers, and even up in the balcony. Clad in white and ivory, this chorus begins to move like a flock of heavy birds laboring to fly great distances. The soundtrack from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" - evoking the poignant lyrics, "If it takes forever, I will wait for you, for a thousand summers..." - fills the palpable, hollow spaces between one dancer and the next like a stormy wind sweeping through a stand of trees.

At first, three dancers - Latsky, Trice, and Freeze, all clad in black - go largely unnoticed amid this powerful expanse of white. Trice stands quietly, far away on a riser. Freeze, from some angles of view, is hidden until he slowly raises and lowers his arm, moving his fingers as if suffering tremors. Latsky lies motionless, caught up in a wide crimson sash. When she rises with the cloth wound around her neck and arm, she unfolds her limbs in a stunning ritual of movement set to sounds of a heart beating in the foreground and women chanting faintly in the distance.

Jazz dance, ballet, and postmodern dance have all have had an impact upon Latsky's virtuosic, speedy, and passionate style. (The same might be said for the choreographic work of Sean Curran, another former Jones/Zane dancer, who is credited with the Trice-Latsky duet.) A physically small woman with gigantic energy, Latsky clearly can be a handful. Freeze and Trice make perfect accomplices for wrestling with the largeness of this work. Even today when postmodern dance admits more drama and feeling, presenting a dance this nakedly emotional is a gutsy move. Latsky and her dancers pull it off with the utmost of finesse. (top)

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Honoring Life Approaching feelings sideways and upside down

by Deborah Jowitt May 23rd, 2006 5:57 PM

Heidi Latsky Dance Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church May 11 through 14

Heidi Latsky sprints into dancing like a small force of nature tamed by technical prowess. So it's surprising that she begins her new Disjointed supine and immobile, clutching a strip of red cloth, while others dance. These others (25 of them, dressed in white) flood the area -- bending, letting their breath expand their bodies upward, spreading their arms as if considering flight. Kathy Kaufmann's lighting throws their shadows on the walls, while projected overhead, Alison Rootberg's close-up, black-and-white images of Latsky's face and body elongate on the church's arched ceiling.

Dances reveal meaning in various ways. Some spool out linear narratives via action, gesture, media, text -- whatever it takes. In others, the interplay of movement and form, with or without music, may tell a deep, enigmatic story of feeling that can't be articulated any other way, to which we may all respond differently. Still others are fragmentary aspects of an experience, selected and juxtaposed by the choreographer.

Latsky, judging from Disjointed and her powerful 2003 Bound, pursues meaning in this last way. She has no tale to recount, and much of the movement she creates expresses primarily the heroism of individuals who hurl themselves against life with love and determination. Tragedy doesn't wilt this woman, nor is it tragedy she wants to show.

Disjointed honors Latsky's late mother, who battled brain tumors for decades. If we read that fact in the program before viewing the piece, it's easy to picture the ensemble people first as angels or departed spirits. When, later, wearing hats, they strut triumphantly in a long snaking parade to Carl Orff's rousing music, we can connect them with Brain Tumor Action Week (May 1 through 7). The scattered piles of Kleenex that constitute Matthew Eggleton's set design evoke both clouds and illness. We can imagine the songs -- like "La Mer" (sung in English) and "Parlez-moi d'amour," cropping up in the atmospheric score (credited to Frank Ponzio plus Kym Serrano) -- to have been Sandra Latsky's favorites.

Even without reading the program, we get a sense of Nathan Trice as a watchful outsider-leader who could easily be a death figure. When Latsky stretches upward to the sound of heartbeats, he copies her. Toward the end of the piece, when he dances alone, she hesitantly imitates his steps. (Sean Curran choreographed this duet.)

But Latsky, co-director Kris Lefcoe, and dramaturge Brian Glover favor obliqueness -- afraid, perhaps, of being too literal. Latsky, Trice, and Jeffrey Freeze -- all wearing black -- are involved in a relationship that's at a remove from any mother-daughter one. Latsky and Freeze dance together, he lifting her high. Freeze solos, performing with lusty virtuosity, but eventually falters and collapses. In the end, Trice carries him away, while Latsky, looking vaguely upset, launches herself into terrific powerhouse dancing that gradually does seem to become disjointed. On the ceiling, a projection shows her naked and pregnant: A mother dies; a daughter is born.

Baldly put in words, the above actions sound emotionally charged. Yet the choreography doesn't fully tap into feelings that might cling to the loss of a loved one, with the desolation of absence and the life-affirming memories of a presence. Latsky's fragments come close to cohering and then slide away. (top)

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Arts & Culture Disjointed Poetry By Joseph Carman May 12, 2006

When Heidi Latsky was 11 years old, her mother suffered a meningioma, a brain tumor that led to her slow and ultimately fatal physical decline. For the next 35 years, the odyssey that Latsky, her family and her mother experienced until her death in 2004 elicited a maze of thoughts, memories and emotions. From May 11 to May 14 at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, in New York City's East Village, Latsky will pay tribute to her mother's spirit with "Disjointed," a full-length choreographed work inspired by her courageous path.

"This piece is really for my mother, my family and me," Latsky said. A physical and emotional dynamo of a dancer, she was with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company from 1987 to 1993 before she branched out as an independent choreographer. "I wanted to make it universal, but I wanted to use her music, honor her life and even wear her clothes." "Disjointed," as the title implies, assembles remnants of remembrances and revelations - serious and humorous - that explore in a theatrical dance format the feelings that affect both the victims of a disease and those who are close to them.

Over three decades, Latsky's mother, Sandra Latsky, underwent three surgeries, radiation, nervous system failure, Alzheimer's-like symptoms and finally a stroke. The length and intensity of the illness provoked some denial in Latsky as a child in her native Montreal. "I was so young when she got sick, and I had never really dealt with it. The first time she came home from the hospital, she was very weak and she'd cry all the time. I got very tough." During Thanksgiving weekend 2004, Sandra was placed on a morphine drip. Latsky spent the last five days of her mother's life by her side. "As I was watching her, I wanted someone to be a witness to this," Latsky said. By creating "Disjointed," Latsky bears witness to the event and searches for meanings in a mother-daughter relationship.

Because her mother seldom talked about what she had endured, Latsky conducted focus groups with other types of survivors so that she could research their experiences and the ways in which they coped. Among those populations were recovering addicts, AIDS patients and ex-convicts. The members of the last group she sought out - cancer survivors from Montreal's Jewish General Hospital (where her mother was treated) - blew her away with their stories of resistance.

Lest anyone think that the project is a downer, Latsky recalls her mother as a very flashy, vital woman, even during periods of intense illness. (Choreographer Arnie Zane, who died in 1988 of AIDS-related complications, called her "Disco Mom.") She collected a bevy of colorful hats to hide her hair loss, which had resulted from radiation and chemotherapy. (After her mother's death, Latsky discovered Hidden Under Our Hats, a group that displays the hats of those who have died of cancer and raises money for medical research.) "She listened to Jackie Mason before every surgery and told jokes all the way into the operating room," Latsky said.

"Disjointed" begins with "Grace," a separate solo that Latsky originally choreographed in memory of Zane. Latsky also danced "Grace" at her mother's funeral. A corps of 30 dancers, dressed in white, performs passages from the solo and then retreats to show three characters dressed in black. The trio loosely represents the essence of Latsky, her mother and her father, who acted as primary caretaker (respectively danced by the choreographer, Jeffrey Freeze and Nathan Trice).

Latsky and Freeze engage in adagio movement to a faint recording of "I Will Wait for You" from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (Sandra Latsky's favorite song, which played by her bedside until her death). The chorus, led by Trice, returns, wearing Sandra's eye-catching hat collection and parading to a musical medley. This is followed by an exuberant solo for Freeze that is danced to the song "Extraordinary" from the musical "Pippin," the first show Latsky saw as a child with her mother. A static MRI sound denotes chaos and deterioration and segues into a disjointed solo danced by Latsky, ending with an image of her seven months pregnant with her own daughter. "With that, there is a sense of completion of the cycle of the process," Latsky said.

Latsky feels that the work's creative flow has been auspicious, involving the generosity of family and friends - including some additional dance passages contributed by choreographer Sean Curran. "It's been a loving process, a godsend," Latsky said. During the last five days of her mother's life, the family rabbi provided a buffer of comfort. When Latsky asked the rabbi if she could dance "Grace" at her mother's funeral service, he nodded and replied, "A eulogy in motion."

"A poem in motion" is how Latsky describes her vision of "Disjointed." "I think the piece is intense, but I don't think it's heavy. I'm trying to make it both virtuosic and beautiful," she said. "I want it very visual, very cinematic and seamless - one thing moving into the next."

Joseph Carman, a contributing editor at Dance Magazine, is the author of "Round About the Ballet" (Limelight Editions, 2004).

ASC eNewsletter - May/June 2006 for DisJOINTED

Choreographing Awareness

Building on ASC's ongoing community partnership with the Danspace Project, New York choreographer Heidi Latsky recently approached us for assistance in creating her new dance piece entitled, "Disjointed," which addresses issues of illness, caretaking, isolation, and survival. The piece recently premiered at Danspace to critical acclaim in The New York Times and elsewhere. In April, Ms. Latsky and dancer Jeffrey Freeze visited ASC and met with 13 of our clients and Peer Educators to solicit their thoughts about surviving illness and pain, coping with the isolation that can come with long-term illness, and "translating" these experiences into movement and dance. As a result of the experience, ASC Peer Educator Joseph A. was invited to perform in the piece.

Congratulations to Joseph and a heartfelt thanks to Heidi Latsky Dance members and Danspace Project for their continuing support and spirit of collaboration.

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