“DESCENT models a truth rarely understood among dance audiences: Disability does not signify incompleteness.”
–Kevin Gotkin, Dance Magazine
From the imagination of disability arts innovator Alice Sheppard, and in collaboration with the artists from the collective Kinetic Light, DESCENT presents a thrilling experience— the release of leaning into a descent.
Performed on an architecture ramp installation with slopes, curves and peaks comer descent celebrates the pleasure of reckless abandon. It reimagines the Rodin sculpture of Greek mythological figure Andromeda and Venus on wheels flying, within inches of the ramp’s edges.
Approx 1 hr
(I) In a world of sky and water, Andromeda and Venus meet. Andromeda discovers herself at the peak, frantic and guarded. Her spirit guide observes. As she cautiously explores her environment, she is grabbed from below by Venus and drawn in. Venus reemerges in her world, inhabiting her environment unperturbed. Following her spirit guide, she is gradually intrigued.
(II) We see the ramp become itself. The waters undulate across its surface; rocks form; the ramp is alive.
(III) As the spirit guides slip into their bodies, Venus and Andromeda meet in a different world. Venus pushes her desire behind her; Andromeda pleads with Venus. Under and over the ramp and their chairs, the dancers wrap themselves around each other, accepting and rejecting their connection.
(IV) Spirit guides and bodies intertwined, Venus chooses Andromeda; Andromeda accepts Venus. The ramp and spirit guides take them and turn them slowly, inevitably towards each other.
(I) Andromeda and Venus yield to each other. Light and the ramp transport them to a dream space.
(II) Upon their return, a separation rakes the lovers apart. Andromeda again retreats to the peak, pulling Venus up after her. The spirit guides separate from their bodies and observe. Each spying the other in their respective homelands, Andromeda and Venus seek to reconnect.
(III) The spirit guides leave Andromeda’s and Venus’ bodies. Tossed and turned by the ramp, Venus and Andromeda have only each other.
Artistic Director’s Note
On behalf of Kinetic Light, it is my joy to share DESCENT with you. If you are seeing DESCENT for the first time, welcome! If you have seen DESCENT before, I hope you will fall in love with Venus and Andromeda again.
We celebrate “No Limits”, its organisers, and the international premiere of the film DESCENT. We thank Northrop, University of Minnesota and Walker Art Center for supporting the creation of this film.
This show breaks ground on several fronts. While we’ve always loved livestreaming our performances, we never considered that online would one day be the primary way of sharing our beloved work with you. That we can make this film at all is due to the brilliance and generosity of the folks at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. During our stay there, we began our practice of accessible livestreaming with a five camera shoot. We were then able to use that footage as the basis of what you will see.
Since its very beginning, DESCENT has become a kind of proving ground for the intertwined practices of access and audio description. We are proud to offer tonight’s film in multiple accessible modes.
We invite you to experience DESCENT as both a sonic and a visual art form.
And then, there’s the ramp. Created specifically for this piece, the ramp is an artistic object and design experiment in kinetic potential and embodiment. It is also an active partner in the dance, generating new movements and new lines; it is not intended to be used functionally at all. The story of DESCENT is, in part, the story of the interactions of dancers and ramp.
DESCENT is also the story of Venus and Andromeda, the figures who lie intertwined in Auguste Rodin’s Toilette of Venus and Andromeda. No one knows why Rodin placed these two figures together; they do not belong to the same mythological worlds.
DESCENT dreams up a story for their love, using select Rodin sculptures as the basis of its movement vocabulary. As Kinetic Light’s artists embody the figures of Venus (traditionally interpreted as white) and Andromeda (described in classical texts as Ethiopian, but traditionally drawn as white), DESCENT counters the erasure of race in Western European histories of art.
DESCENT invites architects and designers to innovate at the edge of disability for maximum aesthetic and pleasurable expression of impairment instead of using technology to normalise, hide, or overcome. Kinetic Light is committed to access as being an integral part of our works, not a secondary accommodation. We invite artists and cultural works to think of access as an aesthetic.
A performance like this is made possible by many hearts and hands. I would like to send a heartfelt thank you to the Kinetic Light team, to our friends and families who cheered us on, to our funders and supporters, and to you, our audience. We are thrilled to share DESCENT with you.
Founded by Alice Sheppard in 2016, Kinetic Light is a project-based ensemble, working at the intersections of disability, dance, design, identity, and technology. Through nuanced investment in the histories, cultures, and artistic work of disabled people and people of colour, it promotes intersectional disability as a creative force and access as an aesthetic critical to creating transformative art and advancing the disability arts movement. Kinetic Light artists include Alice Sheppard, Laurel Lawson, Michael Maag, and Jerron Herman.
Artistic Director, Choreographer and Performer
Alice Sheppard is the artistic director of Kinetic Light, and also a choreographer and dancer in the company. Accepting the outcome of a dare, Sheppard resigned from her tenured professorship to train with Kitty Lunn and Infinity Dance Theater. After an apprenticeship, Sheppard joined AXIS Dance Company, of which she became a core company member, toured nationally, and taught in the company’s education and outreach programs. Since becoming an independent dance artist, she has danced in projects with Ballet Cymru/GDance, and Marc Brew Company in the United Kingdom. In the USA, she has worked with Marjani Forte, MBDance, Infinity Dance Theater and Steve Paxton. As a guest artist, she has danced with AXIS Dance Company, Full Radius Dance, and MOMENTA Dance Company. Sheppard has also performed as a solo artist and keynote academic speaker throughout the USA.
A USA Artist, Creative Capital grantee, and Bessie Award-winner, Sheppard creates movement that challenges conventional understandings of disabled and dancing bodies. Engaging with disability arts, culture and history, Sheppard’s commissioned work attends to the complex intersections of disability, gender, and race. She was a 2018 AXIS Dance Company Choreo-Lab Participant, made possible with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and such journals as Catalyst and the Movement Research and Performance Journal.
Choreographic Collaborator & Performer
Laurel Lawson is a choreographic collaborator, dancer, designer and engineer with Kinetic Light. She is the primary costume and makeup designer and, in collaboration with Top End’s Paul Schulte, designed the wheelchairs that she and Alice Sheppard use in performance, as well as contributing other visual and technical design. She is also the product designer and lead for Audimance, the company’s app, which revolutionises audio description for non-visual audiences.
Beyond the studio, Lawson is CTO and co-founder of CyCore Systems, a boutique engineering consultancy which specialises in solving novel, multi-realm problems of all sizes for a global clientele. She is also a member of the USA women’s para ice hockey team.
Lighting and Video Designer
Michael Maag is projection and lighting designer for Kinetic Light. Maag designs at the intersection of lighting, video, and projection for theatre, dance, musicals, opera, and planetariums across the USA. Maag has built custom optics for projections in theatres, museums and planetariums; he also designs and builds electronics and lighting for costumes and scenery.
As a wheelchair user, Maag is passionate about bringing the perspective of a disabled artist to technical theatre and design. He is currently the resident lighting designer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His designs have been seen on the Festival’s stages for the last 20 years and elsewhere in the USA.
- Researched, Directed and
- Alice Sheppard
- Choreographer and Performance
- Alice Sheppard, in collaboration with Laurel Lawson
- Lighting and Video Designer
- Michael Maag
- Costume and Makeup Designer
- Laurel Lawson
- Michael Maag and Alice Sheppard
- DISABILITY DANCE WORKS, LCC. dba Kinetic Light
- Shaina Ghuraya
- Camera and Video Engineers
- The Empac Video Team
Eric Brucker, Lead Video Engineer with Mick Bellow
and Ryan Jenkins
- Audimance Design
- Laurel Lawson
- Audimance Content Sound Designer/Mixer
- Andy Slater
- Audio Description in English
- Cheryl Green
Location: The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts
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