Donald Lee, Jillian Hollis, and Meredith Fages of Heidi Latsky Dance on Accessibility, Beauty, and Disability
About the Artists:
DONALD LEE was first sculpted by Heidi Latsky for ON DISPLAY - Summer Streets, 2016. He continues to morph in various iterations of DISPLAY by Heidi Latsky Dance. In 2018, Donald was in a trio with fellow HLD dancers Meredith Fages and Sabatino Verlezza for Verlezza Dance, which shares HLD's philosophy to use atypical bodies as sights/sites to address the ideas of beauty, physicality, and authenticity.
MEREDITH FAGES has performed with Karole Armitage, Alexandra Beller, Monica Bill Barnes, David Hallberg/Francesco Vezzoli, Deborah Hay, Heidi Latsky, Elisabeth Motley, Palissimo, Jimena Paz, Laura Peterson, Sarah Skaggs, Steeledance, Virginia Ballet Theatre. Graduated from Columbia University, Pre-Medical Concentration in English. Mother of Graham Sterling Proskin. Joined HLD in 2007.
JILLIAN HOLLIS is originally from Syracuse, is a Point Park University graduate who joined HLD in 2002 and is now the company's Rehearsal Director. Her dancing has been described as “blithely irrepressible” by The NY Times. Jillian collaborates with other artists, is a burlesque performer and Miss Coney Island 2018
MORE INFO: heidilatskydance.org/company
Sammi Lim on behalf of The Dance Enthusiast: Hi, you three! My first question for everyone is this: how would you describe Heidi’s style of leadership?
Meredith Fages, Company Dancer: Demanding with a capital D.
Jillian Hollis, Rehearsal Director: Heidi's style of leader is task-driven. She herself is relentless inside and outside of the studio and expect the same of her dancers. She is one of the hardest working women I know.
Donald Lee, Company Dancer: Heidi is very much a process leader with a 'beginner's mind'. There is no template on accessing movement with a diverse company like ours. We range in body types, dexterity, experience, and expertise, much like in the real world. We're also an intergenerational company, which adds to the complexity of how she communicates with each of us. Heidi has commented that she has created a company of soloists and I think that's true. Her leadership style is informed by a clash of unique bodies with integrated abilities. In that sense, her leadership is also accommodating and collaborative because her work demands it. She can disconnect from desire and know when to let go of something that doesn't work.
Meredith Fages, Company Dancer: She has an extraordinary capacity to meet people where they are and then pull the best out of them, even in the moments when that feels very far from possible.
The Dance Enthusiast: Donald, in your artist bio, it says that you were first sculpted by Heidi Latsky for ON DISPLAY in 2016. Mind expanding on the choice of verb?
Donald Lee: Sure. For those who are unfamiliar with ON DISPLAY, the performance/exhibition opens with a human sculpture court that transforms into dance. The sculpture court is based on structured improvisation evolving into self-realized movement portraits interspersed with interconnected choreographed dance. The performance is somewhat like a Calder mobile. One movement connects with another, either choreographed and/or activated by the environment. So it's very much alive and everchanging.
When Heidi invited me to an open casting call to be in the human sculpture court, I thought that a human sculpture court was as it sounds—people holding a pose. But really it's a durational movement practice shaped and sculpted by time, space, and the environment. In that sense, I feel very much "sculpted" by Heidi.
The Dance Enthusiast: What are some feelings that surge through you when performing ON DISPLAY?
Donald Lee: For me, performing ON DISPLAY is more of an awareness of airiness or emptying of emotions. In actuality, it is getting into the core of your being. That very essence is transformative within each movement installation. Whether that manifestation be discomfort or invincibility, it's always unknowable yet honest. Heidi has described arriving at this moment as being vulnerable. To me, it's also honesty, revealing your true self. What's illuminating is the infinite in-between journey as I transition from stillness to stillness.
The Dance Enthusiast: Is there a performing arts venue you would like to commend for its accessibility?
Donald Lee: Nothing comes to mind.
I'm in a unique position since I wear prostheses and can navigate most spaces with relative ease. That said, accessibility is not only about physical mobility. There are cognitive, intellectual, and invisible disabilities, among other types of disabilities. Besides, accessibility at one venue versus at another is not always all inclusive. Access needs differ from person to person. What's accessible to me may not be accessible to someone else. We have to think of accessibility as an ongoing open conversation among all stakeholders. I remain teachable in a broader ideation of access and I advocate the same for all performance arts venues.
On the other hand, performing at inaccessible spaces helps expose the shortcomings of a venue for its performers and audiences. It also fosters uncomfortable but necessary conversations about inclusivity in the arts. On many occasions, Heidi Latsky Dance literally disrupts a space in order to reimagine a space for all. For instance, we performed in an old theater in Armenia that was inaccessible, to say the least. We reconfigured the theater to allow the audience to enter from the back of the stage which opens to a back alley. We also arranged seating on stage. The space is democratized where performers and audience share the same space and are on the same level. The spectators become spectacle themselves on stage. We made a space that doesn't work work for us. There are no rules to break in integrated dance so we have to make our own rules.
Overall, I hope a venue confronted with accessibility issues will begin to value the richness of disability artistry and inclusivity in the arts.
The Dance Enthusiast: Hey, Meredith. I thought I recognized you from the New Yorkers For Dance campaign!
Meredith Fages: Yep, that's me.
You quoted: “Disability Dance Artistry matters to me because it allows us to expand our artistic palette and to discover beauty in unexpected places.” In a similar vein, has there been a silver lining to Covid-19?
Meredith Fages: This has definitely been a time of seeking and uncovering beauty in unexpected places. Those necessary moments keep me going when I feel lodged in the endless and unknown (which in so many ways is life anyway!) and they remind me that the only constant is change. I prize wonder.
The Dance Enthusiast: What is a fun fact about yourself that not many people might know?
Meredith Fages: I successfully summited Kilimanjaro with my husband.
The Dance Enthusiast: Well done! Jillian too, has her own achievements, which includes winning Miss Coney Island 2018. What was your pageant talent?
Jillian Hollis: My talent for Miss Coney Island was a burlesque act. I created an act inspired by the Cyclone roller coaster. It involved puppetry, hot dogs, a lot of upper body choreography and screaming!
The Dance Enthusiast: As Rehearsal Director of the company, what has that been like in this whirlwind of a year?
Jillian Hollis: I was pregnant for part of it and had my first baby in July. So in a way it's been good but strange timing to slow down. However, in the beginning of the pandemic, I suggested we start teaching repertoire online through Instagram live. I wanted us to all keep moving and maybe learn something new. I was teaching a warm up and then would take a week or two to teach HLD movement, our "Signature Solo" series. That sparked other company members to teach classes online as well.
Heidi also gave me the task to film myself doing solo material in various locations. I filmed on my roof, in the streets, in my apartment and on my sisters porch. She would give me different directions with each assignment. Heidi ended up making the most beautiful film for me with all the movement filmed while I was pregnant as a gift and titled it "For Edith", my daughter. It makes me weep for so many reasons. It really captures this pause in life beautifully.
The Dance Enthusiast: What is one of your favorite works that you have performed with the company?
Meredith Fages: "Unfinished". Hands down the hardest evening-length dance I've ever done, and when I get the pacing right, it is incredibly gratifying. I'm going on a mammoth journey as a performer, but it's more about what the audience brings to it as they go on mammoth journeys of their own. I think it allows people to find the universal in the particular.
Jillian Hollis: We did an evening of work called "Triptych". It was a film we shot at Montclair State University titled "Soliloquy" and then we performed two works called "Solo Counter Solo" and "Somewhere". It was a wonderful evening of dance that really allowed the company to shine. My "Somewhere" duet was created with a vogue dancer, my shoulders have never been the same.
Donald Lee: A memorable venue is Lincoln Center's Reflective Pool. Heidi staged the dancers around the pool, in the center of which sits a Henry Moore statue, Reclining Figure, which looks like a meteor floating in the sky that's reflected in the pool. And the performers looked like heavenly bodies among clouds surrounding the statue. That was surreal.
The Dance Enthusiast: Thanks so much, everyone. To wrap up, please complete the prompt: “Disability is more _________ than most will ever know.”
Donald Lee: . . . present.
Meredith Fages: . . . creatively fecund.
Jillian Hollis: . . . powerful, beautiful, self sufficient and normal than most will ever know. People tend to either stare or look past people with disabilities. We're all human. We should take the time to learn and know one another. I've learned so much working with the members of our company and not just about disability. I've learned about life, history, travel, computers... Conversations are key.