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Accessibility on stage: Dance and activism blend in Abilities Dance performance

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Accessibility on stage: Dance and activism blend in Abilities Dance performance
Members of Abilities Dance perform “Intersections.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF ABILITIES DANCE

This month, Abilities Dance Boston presents the world premiere of “Intersections v2,” the second installment of a performance highlighting BIPOC artists and promoting disability rights. The activist dance company, led by Executive Director Ellice Patterson, uses dance to advocate for intersectional disability rights, specifically tying performances to important Massachusetts legislation. “Intersections v2” was created by an all-BIPOC team and will run April 21 and 22 at the Multicultural Arts Center.

As with the initial piece in the series, “Intersections v2” interprets the work and stories of disability activists, including Annie Segarra, Cheryl Cumings, Keith Jones, Pelenakeke Brown, Carrie Ann Lucas, Sandy Ho and Keisha Greaves.

“These honorees are spanning the globe, and it’s exciting to see how these different activists, both past and present, are working within their own spaces but also seeing collectively how the movement is pushing forward,” says Patterson.

A member of Abilities Dance performs “Intersections.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF ABILITIES DANCE

Patterson interviews these figures, then works with composer Andrew Cho to create an original score channeling the themes of their work and connecting those stories to bills on the state floor. From there she works with the dancers to develop choreography that works for everyone’s abilities and identities.

Abilities Dance was born when Patterson was auditioning for companies around Boston and was repeatedly told that companies could not make accommodations for a disability. The rhetoric that was continually repeated to her was that there was no space for disability in professional dance companies. And so in 2017, Patterson started a professional dance company that would make those accommodations.

As the company has grown, it has become an activist tool as well as an artistic space. For “Intersections v2,” the company has partnered with the Disability Policy Consortium and Easterseals Massachusetts. Both organizations will be present at the performances providing information about disability legislature and encouraging audience members to participate in the cause by signing petitions and contacting representatives.

Accessibility is always a top priority at the Abilities Dance performances. Audio descriptions will be provided for blind and low-vision audiences, and captions and ASL interpretations will be provided for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences. The performance will be live-streamed so audience members who can’t physically attend can still enjoy it, and unlimited free tickets are available to dispel any economic barriers.

“I hope that folks understand that we must think about everyone living within the intersections of communities, race and disabilities, queer and trans identities and disabilities, etc., in order to really have an impactful equity movement,” says Patterson. “We must highlight that in order to have solidarity across all movements, and really think about true liberation for all.”