Parkinson-Themed Ballet Hopeful Despite Flaws

Photo by Eric Rosé.
Photo by Eric Rosé.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company – Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story)
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
February 21, 2014

By Steve Sucato

Pittsburgh multimedia artist Frank Ferraro once said of living with Parkinson’s disease: “I imagine life not as a long road of misery, but the shortest distance to happiness.” In her ballet, Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story), director/choreographer Maria Caruso tapped into Ferraro’s optimistic outlook on life in telling his story before and after the disease. Performed by Caruso’s Pittsburgh-based Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company at the Byham Theater, the ballet was for the most part upbeat in dealing with the serious nature of Parkinson’s disease in the way a New Orleans-style funeral deals with death; celebrating life’s joys rather than its sorrows.

The ballet opened on a film excerpt by Ferraro describing his life and his art before the disease. At its conclusion a dozen female dancers began the first of several group dances in which Caruso used them as a metaphor for Ferraro’s body and how the disease had slowly tightened its grip on him. Danced to a toe-tapping jazz score by Craig Davis and performed live by Davis, the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra and singers Davis and Anna Singer, Caruso’s aerobic choreography gave the impression of a well-oiled machine. The peppy dancers moved through a succession of athletic jumps, turns and body rolls.

As the ballet continued, more film clip interludes described Ferraro’s loss of his sense of smell, a precursor to Parkinson’s and his troubles with his motor skills that hampered his career as a sculptor by denying him the safe use of his sculpting tools. Caruso then echoed the decline in Ferraro’s health in successive dance vignettes, interjecting into her choreography physical manifestations of the disease’s effect on Ferraro such as the dragging of a leg, the shaking of a hand, a limp arm and the occasional fall.

Photo by Eric Rosé.
Photo by Eric Rosé.

While the intent in the choreography was visible, Caruso’s somewhat repetitive and rudimentary movement for the dancers failed to engage and lacked the emotional impact Ferraro’s film clips had.

Later in the ballet, Caruso herself took the stage as a physical representation of the disease. Costumed in a black cocktail dress and heels, Caruso acted as a seductress luring the other dancers to drink champagne with her; perhaps representing in drink form the ongoing spread of the disease throughout Ferraro’s body. In predictable fashion the number of dancers actively dancing dwindled until one remained refusing Caruso’s aggressive siren call. The lone dancer represented Ferraro’s defiant fighting spirit against the disease and ended the ballet on a spirited note.

Despite its somewhat flawed execution, Left Leg, Right Brain (The Frank Ferraro Story) was lifted by fantastic music, enthusiastic performances by Bodiography’s young dancers, touching film clips and an overriding message of hope via the indomitable spirit of Frank Ferraro.

Photo by Eric Rosé.
Photo by Eric Rosé.

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