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Art Imitates Life

Basically Dance

By Julie Mullins · February 2nd, 2005 · Shake It

If art imitates life, Pat Graney and her modern dance company delve deeply into the complexities of both. The Seattle-based company concerns itself not only with creating imaginative, cutting-edge work, but with more practical applications for the "real world" with "Inside/Outside: The Prison Project."

During a visit to Cincinnati for performances in February 2001, Graney provided intensive training to a group of local female artists to conduct an integrated arts program for incarcerated women. Forerunners included Contemporary Dance Theater (presenters of Pat Graney Dance Company, www.cdt-dance.org), Intuition Theater, Women Writing for (a) Change and the Prison Reform Advocacy Center.

Interdisciplinary arts curricula are presented by a broad cross-section of artists of both genders: dancers, visual artists, writers, actors.

The teams lead hands-on, creative workshops in the correctional facility that culminate in a final performance written and performed by incarcerated men and women and presented to an audience of residents and non-residents. The operation continues to gain momentum: the group's sixth series of workshops leading to a performance at River City Correctional Center begin the first week of February.

The name "Inside/Outside" perfectly embodies the program's meanings: the external bridging of the gap between those incarcerated (kept inside) and those on the "outside" (coming in). There's also the internal, powerful experience of exorcising the turmoil -- or perhaps, sharing the joy -- felt inside through the self-expression inherent to creating art and presenting it to others.

Pat Graney Dance Company presents the hauntingly beautiful yet quirky multi-media work "The Vivian Girls" this weekend at the Aronoff Center. Based on a 15,000-page tome and images of visual artwork from "outsider" artist Henry Darger, the show promises to be among the most daring performances in town this year -- dance or otherwise. The female dancers move between an eerily disturbing landscape of fantasy and reality, en pointe and off, against striking video projections and props such as oversized books.

Contemporary Dance Theater's Jefferson James describes Graney as possessing "a sardonic sense of humor and a very humanitarian spirit." Sometimes art's success may be measured by how it improves life, whether or not it imitates it.



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