By Steve Sucato
Artistic director Maria Caruso’s penchant for evening-length ballets exploring health issues has carved out a niche for the company on the regional dance scene. It’s also helped raise awareness on subjects such as heart health, regenerative medicine and coping with loss.
In works like 2010’s Heart (Function vs. Emotion) and 2011’s 108 Minutes, Caruso has taken a broad, community approach to individual maladies. But for her latest, Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story), Caruso builds a ballet around the story of one individual: Pittsburgh multimedia artist Frank Ferraro, who is coping with Parkinson’s disease.
Caruso says she was inspired to create the ballet by Ferraro’s humor, energy and spirit in the face of his disease. It’s a spirit she likens to that of another notable Parkinson’s sufferer: actor Michael J. Fox, to whose children Caruso taught dance while living in New York years ago.
The 75-minute, intermission-less contemporary ballet, to be performed Feb. 21 and 22 at the Byham Theater, focuses on how Ferraro uses creative expression to help get past his physical debilities. It’s set to an original jazz score by Craig Davis, to be performed live by the Craig Davis Jazz Ensemble, the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra and vocalist Anna Singer.
“The ballet is really about me interviewing Frank, and the dancers represent different parts of Frank’s physical self,” says Caruso.
The work is tied together by video clips of Ferraro’s life before and after Parkinson’s. And as in past ballets, Caruso’s choreography incorporates elements of the physical manifestations of Ferraro’s disease, such as changes in his gait, balance and motor function. The dancers take on those characteristics slowly, illustrating how Ferraro’s body has been gradually affected by the disease.
“I really wanted people to see that because someone is stricken with Parkinson’s disease, it doesn’t have to completely change their life for the worse,” says Caruso. “The disease rips away at your physical self. It doesn’t change the essence and beauty of you.”
Bodiography performs Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story), 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 21, and 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 22. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $20.75-50.75. 412-456-6666 or www.trustarts.org
This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on February 19, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.