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Abilities Dance presents a more inclusive ballet performance

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Abilities Dance presents a more inclusive ballet performance
Abilities Dance company members in rehearsal. PHOTO: OSA ISAGEDE PHOTOGRAPHY

Ballet gets an equitable contemporary upgrade in Abilities Dance Boston’s production “Inversion,” performed in person and virtually Nov. 4 and 5. The nonprofit dance company that includes and celebrates dancers with disabilities takes back the dance genre that has long excluded these dancers by creating a completely new ballet designed to utilize dancers of all kinds.

Ellice Paterson, Abilities Dance founder and artistic director PHOTO: JAYPIX PHOTOGRAPHY

“What would it look like if we created a ballet that included us from the beginning?” says Ellice Patterson, Abilities Dance founder and executive and artistic director. “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 as a series of narrative vignettes woven together as the show progresses. Patterson and Abilities Dance Director of Music 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 it was important to analyze the relationship between race and disability in this ballet.

Abilities Dance performing at the Arnold Arboretum. PHOTO: BILL PARSONS / MAXIMAL IMAGE

“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 has 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. Patterson has also been working on a special aerial performance in partnership with Commonwealth Circus.

To maximize accessibility, the ballet will be streamed online as well as 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.

Patterson hopes the ballet opens audience members’ eyes to the wider 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.”