Modern Dance Demonstration Brings Joy to Seniors
For the fifth year in a row, Alison Cook Beatty Dance brought the sheer joy of movement and music to more than 50 residents at the Mary Manning Walsh Home, a nursing home for seniors in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The modern dance company, founded in New York City in 2012, explores the universal human condition through expansive and emotionally driven movements.
In the afternoon of October 21, 2017, Artistic Director Alison Cook-Beatty, along with eight of her company's dancers and a local composer-musician Dorian Wallace, took to the stage in the auditorium at the nursing home, where residents waited in eager anticipation since that morning for an hour of graceful movements, beautiful melodies and a bit of body-movement fun.
During the lecture-demonstration, Ms Cook-Beatty shared with the residents how dance is created, rehearsed and then refined. Dancers started by demonstrating a few warm-up routines, followed by a piano performance of a beautiful, Chilean national song by Mr. Wallace.
By this time, the residents were ready for the opening dance. "Houston Street Hootenanny," choreographed by Ms Cook-Beatty and set to the music of Bob Dylan's " Like a Rolling Stone," was a pleasant surprise for all. It was The high-energy performance, which involved a lot of jumps, turns, rolling on the floor, along with sassy and seductive moves, exuded a great sense of optimism that the 60's song embodies. The audience couldn't help but started to sing along with the music, as they all seemed to remember very well the song from their youth.
More wonderful surprises followed this dance number, as dancers in twos and threes demonstrated how they used movements to express different qualities such as round and angular shapes. At the same time, the pianist would improvise tunes to match the movement qualities. Everything was created at the spur of the moment, and it was truly a wonder for the audience to behold. The audience was even asked to participate by suggesting a color for the dancers to interpret. A resident suggested "green," and a trio of dancers started to interpret it with movements that elicited elements in Nature. There was a moment of silence at the end of the mini performance, as the audience gasped in amazement of this magical improvisation.
Ms Cook-Beatty and one of the most senior members of the company, Joshua Elliott, performed a duet called "Lifeline," set to the beautiful and haunting music of Karl Jenkins.
The finale of the lecture-demonstration was a group dance session led by senior dancer Carolina Rivera. The movements she and the dancers demonstrated to the audience were easy to execute despite the fact that some of the residents were wheel-chair bound. The residents started to shake their hands and sway their bodies along with the upbeat music and you can literally see the music moving through them. One of the residents even chimed in by singing throughout the whole event, and amazingly her singing blended in really well with the music!
"Everybody really appreciated the performance today," said Maribel Cortez, a personal aid to several of the residents at Mary Manning. She has seen all of the five lecture-demonstrations by Alison Cook Beatty Dance and looked forward to each visit. "The dance made me full of life and energy. I really appreciate how the dancers smiled at each other, how they moved their legs and laid down on the floor and got back up and how they were so well coordinated and never got tired!"
Her client nodded in agreement. Ms Cortez said that the event was the highlight of the day for the residents and some of them were waiting in the cafeteria for the dancers' arrival since 10 a.m. "They really like being involved. They get more energy and more spirit from this, and it really helps them focus," she said. "Everybody is waiting for you to come back again!"
Gabriel S. Lit, Recreation Therapist of Archcare at the Mary Manning Walsh Home, commented: "Alison Cook Beatty Dance Company brought exciting, enthusiastic, highly professional, and simply excellent modern dance to our residents at Mary Manning Walsh Home. The fantastic interactive performance, melding the fine craft of the artists with the energy and excitement of young professionals making new, good, art, was absolutely electric. The residents were completely mesmerized and engaged, showing their appreciation by actively participating in the interactive elements and, finally, with rousing applause that belied the median age in the audience. Alison Cook Beatty Dance Company provided us with a jolt of life and proved to all that the appreciation of good, new art can bridge generations."
—By Louisa Wah
Photo credit: Russell Haydn.