In fall 2006, choreographer Heidi Latsky partnered with interdisciplinary artist Lisa Bufano, who had received a fellowship.
Ms. Bufano, originally from Boston, had her feet and fingers amputated in response to a bacterial disease when she was 21 years old. Since then, the former gymnast has maintained a performance career by creating work that incorporates stilts and lyra hoops into the movement vocabulary so disabled and able-bodied dancers can share the stage.
"I had never worked with anybody who was disabled," said Ms. Latsky, a former principal with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. While some may have found Ms. Bufano's physique to be an obstacle, she regarded it as an untapped well of possibilities.
"She kind of in a way became a muse for me," said Ms. Latsky, who was drawn to Ms. Bufano for her fierce yet vulnerable aura. "It's something I always look for in my dancers, and it's something that's hard to get."
The several months they spent together motivated Ms. Latsky to craft works for others with disabilities, and eventually to choreograph "GIMP," which welcomes audiences to look closely at what separates -- and unites -- the ways in which able and disabled bodies move.
Heidi Latsky Dance, as well as seasoned and disabled dancers from the community, will bring "GIMP" at 8 p.m. Saturday to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown, as a special to the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2011-12 season. The Pittsburgh premiere also will coincide with the centennial celebration of the FISA Foundation, a grant-making foundation serving women, girls and people with disabilities throughout Western Pennsylvania. "We were looking for an event that would reflect our mission and that could be a gift to the community," FISA Foundation executive director Kristy Trautmann said.
"We felt like it demonstrated the power of our vision for inclusion and that it would be a perfect way to showcase some of these issues in a way that would also be joyful, fun and celebratory."
Since April, the FISA Foundation has commemorated its history and evolution since the days it was a convalescent home for women in the early 1900s by launching an e-newsletter, issuing signature grants to organizations that embody its mission and producing videos that tell the story of some grant recipients. In preparation for "GIMP," a free community forum about the production will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 Fifth Ave., Shadyside.
Next weekend, a six-dancer cast (three with disabilities and three without) will explore and challenge the varying definitions of the word "gimp" and the stereotypes that sometimes accompany them.
"The idea behind 'GIMP' is to strip everything to its barest essentials," Ms. Latsky said. Choreography doesn't aim to impress with flashy combinations or complex technique, and music -- which encompasses a mix of selected and commissioned sounds -- reflects this approach.
The piece opens with a prologue where aerialists twist and maneuver themselves hanging from silk ribbons. A part of the work also invites Pittsburghers to join the cast. Kiesha Lalama, an assistant professor of dance at Point Park University, recruited locals for "GIMP" from Point Park's dance program and some of the city's other professional companies, as well as from Pittsburgh CLO's New Horizons program, where children and adults with physical or developmental disabilities can learn about musical theater.
When working with community members, Ms. Latsky has learned to let each person move about the space in a way that feels comfortable and natural, rather than assigning them specific steps crafted before meeting them.
"I remember going in there and everything I had planned didn't work," she said about working with people from other cities. "I kind of panicked. Then I kind of just went, 'Who are these people, and what can we do?' I think what we ended up with was so beautiful."
The only requirement Ms. Latsky has for her dancers is that they don't hold back who they are.
" 'GIMP' is all about giving the audience permission to really look," she said. "It's an opportunity for them to really look so they can see what they're afraid to look at in real life and the beauty of what's there."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org .