Since he took the reins in 2016 as executive and artistic director of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, one of Christopher Gruits’ goals has been to incorporate an artist-in-residence program. Now, for the first time, Mark Morris, a renowned choreographer, will bring his expertise to Penn’s campus in February for a month of programming.
The purpose of the residency, Gruits says, is to expand the reach of performing arts outside of just the Annenberg Center “by better connecting it to other parts of the University, as well as the Philadelphia community.”
There will be performances for the public by Morris’ New York City-based dance company, masterclasses for Penn students, a Morris-curated musical film series, and an Arts4Youth show for schoolchildren.
The biggest happening of all? A full-day Dance for PD Symposium on Saturday, Feb. 10, dedicated to exploring Morris’ acclaimed Dance for PD program and the impact of dance, music, and community on the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease. Dance for PD, which offers regular classes at its home base in Brooklyn and also all over the world, has grown throughout the past decade into one of the primary movement programs for people with Parkinson’s.
“We do happen to be at Penn, a global leader in medicine, and we are also a major player in the Philadelphia metro area for the arts,” says Gruits. “This Symposium combines the two, showing how arts can have an impact outside of just performance.”
Symptoms of Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disorder, typically develop gradually, and often slow movements, cause rigidity and balance issues, and trigger tremors.
“Parkinson’s causes a problem with movement, and specifically with moving in a natural and rhythmical way,” explains Andrew Siderowf, director of Penn’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, a partner organization for the Symposium. “Therapies that are connected to dancing and music are a natural fit to address core problems people with Parkinson’s experience.”
Kicking off the Symposium at 10 a.m. is a workshop for professionals—including those in the medical field, dance teachers, therapists, and movement practitioners—who work with individuals with Parkinson’s.
We will share some of our dance-based approaches for people without a lot of dance experience,” says David Leventhal, who directs the Mark Morris Dance Group’s Dance for PD program. “It will give participants an idea of how to introduce creative and musical work into their practice.”
Then, at 1 p.m., those with Parkinson’s and their care partners, plus professionals who work with them, are invited to a free Dance for PD class.
In addition to addressing balance awareness, the ability to move with large amplitude, and the idea of using an internal rhythm to maintain a steady gait, Leventhal says another aspect Dance for PD emphasizes is generating meaning through hands, faces, and bodies, “which counteracts the sort of masked expression that you often see in the face of someone with Parkinson’s.” He adds that the dance classes are also cognitively stimulating, and, of course, there’s a meaningful social aspect.
“People with Parkinson’s disease often feel cut off from family, their communities—they lose the connections they had when they were working,” Leventhal says. “People might feel awkward in their bodies, or don’t want to go out. This program allows them to interact with others, and gives them a sense of belonging. It’s also a place where they don’t have to explain what they are going through.”
At 3 p.m., a screening of the film “Capturing Grace,” which chronicles the work and impact of the Dance for PD program, will be showcased. Afterward, attendees can take part in a Q&A discussion featuring Leventhal and the documentary’s director David Iverson.
Those who attend the Symposium are eligible for discounted tickets to the 8 p.m. Mark Morris Dance Group and Music Ensemble Performance at the Annenberg Center. Also, Penn faculty and staff can save 20 percent on tickets to the public performances by using promo code PENN. Visit www.annenbergcenter.org for more information.