What does it truly mean to be a performing artist by any means necessary? This question has circulated the depths of my artistic exploration for quite some time, but it was today, at the Resident Island Dance Theatre (RIDT) world premiere of Ice Age that I physically saw the embodiment of what could serve as a sufficient answer: Sacrifice, Perseverance, and Dedication. That, in essence, is what it takes to commit to a passion that is nothing less than your life’s calling. THAT is what it means to be an artist by any means necessary.

Welcome to American Dance Festival‘s 90th Anniversary Season where this season’s theme especially highlights inclusivity by featuring artists with disabilities. RIDT was selected to debut its recent work Ice Age to ignite conversation that invites the possibility of exploring connection and cultural environments. With a precise approach to introducing the broad scope of how we navigate communication, or lack thereof, the company took advantage of the socially divisive nature of COVID-19’s impact on community engagement. This production not only embraces the difficulty of maneuvering the demands of daily living during an unidentifiable pandemic, but also exposes the intricacies of how those with disabilities have had to endure daily living despite not having immediate access to life’s necessities.

Traditionally, society thinks of performance dance requiring many things, including an astute sense of technicality and professional training. However, RIDT has proven that while traditional dance technique may be one of the ways to become part of the dance performance industry, it certainly is not the only avenue through which dance performance can be made.

With limited movement due to physical impairment, technically profound performers and dance makers Yu Cheng Cheng and Maylis Arrabit performed with elegance in their wheelchairs. Choreographer and artistic director Chung-An Chang, who lost sight in his right eye at age 18, has created a work alongside a cast of artists who internalize and express the essence of performing, creating and executing artistry by any means necessary.

Ice Age maintained a theme of curiosity as Arrabit and Cheng used their wheelchairs to circumnavigate the stage. Each dancer successfully established a sense of character and expressed camaraderie through the assisted contact improvisation written into the choreographic score. The intelligence displayed through each member’s ability to effectively convey movement pathways and directional variation was impressive. Scenes included in the score were especially indicative of a great use of body control. Motifs that referenced cooking and incorporated transitional genius allowed Arrabit and Cheng to execute choreographic floor work with the help of company dancers Shih-Yun Fang and Yi-Chen Juan. Moreover, this was as much an educational experience as it was an opportunity to embrace cultural expansion through international artistry. RIDT has used Ice Age to harness the powers of innovation and offer insight into how artists can use their bodies, with more or less movement restrictions, to express thought-provoking creativity in concordance with Sacrifice, Perseverance, and Dedication.

Congratulations to artistic director Chung-An Chang and Resident Island Dance Theatre company dancers for a job well done on their first international and ADF debut of Ice Age. Company bios can be found here.