Saturday, October 20, 2012

Capturing Grace

The "Five-Stage" model of grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was first put forth in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying." And while it was meant to explain the feelings a person goes through at the end of life, it's since been adapted to divorce, substance abuse, even breaking up with a boyfriend. By now it's become so much a part of popular culture that there are five stages to everything from travel (dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, sharing) to drunkenness (smart, handsome, rich, bulletproof, invisible).

Whatever the intent, the original five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are also applicable to those with a major illness or injury. Be it cancer or a shattered leg, one can easily see the same progression play out as an individual comes to grips with their situation. It's especially true with slower, degenerative diseases such as arthritis or heart disease. But it's a fair bet that with all the permutations she might have considered, Kübler-Ross' didn't look at those with Parkinson's Disease and add a sixth stage of "dancing."

Yet, perhaps she should have. At least that's the conclusion one could draw from a remarkable program that originated at the Mark Morris Dance Company in Brooklyn. Called "Dance for PD," it started in the fall of 2001, and has since expanded to 75 communities around the world, including those in New Zealand and Tel Aviv. In the same way that singing can help those that stutter, the movement and flexibility that is required in even simple dance seems to help those whose muscle control is slipping away.

It's more than just an idea. As David Leventhal, a former principle dancer with the Mark Morris company who now devotes all his time to the program says, "things like balance, movement sequencing, rhythm, spatial and aesthetic awareness, and dynamic coordination seem to address many of the things people with Parkinson's want to work on to maintain a sense of confidence and grace in their movements." However it's one thing to hear the theory; it's another to see it come alive. And that's where Dave Iverson comes in, and his remarkable film "Capturing Grace."

Iverson is an Emmy award winning writer/producer/director with credits a mile long for a variety of PBS shows such as Frontline. He stumbled upon the program while researching his acclaimed documentary "My Father, My Brother, and Me." That film examines Parkinson's through the very personal lens of his own family, where three members have been diagnosed with the disease. That's right: Dave has Parkinson's as well.

"Capturing Grace," as yet unfinished, chronicles the program and some of its participants as they prepare for their first public performance. We meet Joy Esterberg as she slides across the rehearsal space, ending with jazz hands: "You're feeling it, and doing it utterly to the sense you can imagine it, then you're there." Or Carol Eneski, whose body shakes when she talks, but whose arms trace graceful arcs when the music is playing: "I want us to be good. I don't just want us to be good for people with Parkinson's." And Reggie Butts, built like a linebacker, who had to stop attending class when he was admitted to the hospital for a time, eventually making a slow and deliberate yet triumphal return: "When the dance class is going on, there are no patients. There are dancers."

It is a remarkable portrait. To help finish it, Iverson has turned to There you can watch a trailer, but more importantly, help: I and others have contributed funds towards production. Pledges of $5 receive a "Thank You" card from the filmmaking team featuring a photo by Director of Photography Eddie Maritz, while $500 or more garners a special preview along with dinner with Iverson and others involved. They are crossing their fingers: as of this writing, they are about halfway to their modest $15,000 goal with just a few weeks left, and Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition.

Speaking for myself, I would encourage you to check it out and donate to the film if it moves you. Yes, my father had Parkinson's, as does my good friend Andy. But it's not about me or them or even Iverson. It's a story about people who have decided not to just roll over when hit by a disease that stops many in their tracks. Or as Mark Morris himself says, "The people who come in the building one way leave another way. And I don't mean by a different door. They are transformed."


You can see a trailer and contribute to the production of "Capturing Grace" here. This column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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