Lights, wheelchairs and ramps: Northrop performance series takes dancing to new heights

Kinetic Light tests the limits of dance, artistry and disability.

Northrop+Auditorium+as+seen+on+April+5%2C+2015.

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Northrop Auditorium as seen on April 5, 2015.

Meg Bishop

Kinetic Light dance company works at the intersection of disability and dance. Wheelchairs, ramps and lifts take dancers to new heights as they raise the bar for what it means to represent disability in the arts.

Northrop and Walker Art Center will premiere Kinetic Light’s film “DESCENT” running Dec. 3-5. Kinetic Light, founded by Alice Sheppard, is dually based in New York City and the Bay Area, California explores the disciplines of art, technology, design and dance.

As part of Kinetic Light’s initiative to highlight accessibility, the production also includes audio described versions. Other short films by Kinetic Light and others were screened in a separate Nov. 30 event.

Kristen Brogdon, the director of programming at Northrop, was first introduced to Sheppard while working at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Sheppard had just begun setting down the framework for starting Kinetic Light.

“Combining dance, architecture, design and technology, it challenges cultural assumptions of what disability, dance and beauty can be,” said Mariclare Hulbert, publicist for Kinetic Light.

During a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina for an arts festival, Brogdon was able to catch a showing of “DESCENT.” She wanted to bring Sheppard and Kinetic Light to the University of Minnesota. The plan was for Northrop to partner with The Walker Art Center and showcase Kinetic Light at McGuire Theater this semester, but plans changed when the art center could no longer have shows due to the pandemic — so they began thinking about a virtual show.

Kinetic Light had put together a high-quality recording of its performances prior to the pandemic, and they decided that Northrop would use those videos for a short series.

“DESCENT” features Sheppard and one of the company’s dancers, Laurel Lawson.

“There’s a ramp that functions almost as a third character in the piece. It’s incredibly designed for them to move exactly the way they need to move for the story they are trying to tell,” Brogdon said.

The two characters in “DESCENT” represent Greek mythology’s Venus and Andromeda that come together in a queer and interracial love story.

“The way they construct a world onto the ramp is new. It’s not new in terms of artistry but by inserting the kinds of bodies and the kinds of histories and legacies that are on the stage, it makes the whole thing really pop,” said Jerron Herman, a dancer for Kinetic Light.

The film highlights that disability can be a pathway to a unique and new methodology in the world of dance.

“It is not a film that tries to reuse the tragic narrative of disability,” Herman said. “We love our bodies as much as anyone would, and what would it be like to make an aesthetic of joy and beauty out of that?”

More information about Kinetic Light’s Descent can be found on the Northrop Auditorium website.

Correction: A previous version of this article contained several errors. It initially misstated Kristen Brogdon’s title; she is the director of programming at Northrop. An older version of this article also mischaracterized the plot of a film and inaccurately characterized the main performance. The article has since been updated to reflect the changes.

Editor’s Note: Language in this article has also been updated.