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Arts & Culture

Redefining Movement: Open Arms Dance Project Set For Live In-Person Boise Performance

Member of Open Arms Dance Project, in wheelchair
Open Arms Dance Project
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Megan Brandel, Open Arms Dance Project
Open Arms Dance Project will perform outside JUMP Friday, June 11, 2021.

The Open Arms Dance Project redefines the traditional sense of a dance company and even allows us to rethink our concept of movement.

“We are a modern dance company with dancers who have a lot of neurodiversity and diverse bodies, ages, abilities and dance experience,” said Megan Brandel, founding artistic director of Open Arms.

“And we're always working to create powerful art that changes people's minds about who can dance and what constitutes valuable dance art.”

In anticipation of Open Arms’ live in-person performance outdoors at JUMP in downtown Boise on Friday, June 11, Brandel visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice.

“We believe that everybody, as in everybody's physical form, has a dancer's body.”
Megan Brandel

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Live performances have been missing from our lives for a bit too long. And while some arts organizations have begun making plans to return, we are quite excited to tell you about a live performance from the Open Arms Dance Project. It's a big night. The show will be outdoors at JUMP in downtown Boise. The artistic director is Megan Brandel and she joins us live this morning. Megan, good morning.

MEGAN BRANDEL: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: Tell our audience, please, about Open Arms. This this is pretty impressive.

BRANDEL: Yeah. Oh, thank you for having me. I'm so excited about this performance. And to finally share with more people what we've been up to during this strange and challenging years. So Open Arms… our mission is to create greater joy and compassion with dance that opens hearts, minds and arms. The way we do that is in Open Arms. We believe that everybody, as in everybody's physical form, has a ”dancer's body.” We celebrate the beautiful spectrum of human movement and value the unique creative contributions that every person has to offer. What that means is we are a modern dance company with dancers who have a lot of neurodiversity and diverse bodies, ages, abilities and dance experience. And we're always working to create powerful art that changes people's minds about who can dance and what constitutes valuable dance art.

PRENTICE: We toss around the word diversity a lot, especially in the last couple of years. But I must tell you that I am stunned at the diversity here… and the skill and the talent of these men and women, some of whom happen to have a physical or neurological challenge in their lives. So, can we talk just for a moment about movement, with or without what some might consider typical arms or legs? This is movement in a whole new and maybe even bigger fashion.

Dancers with Open Arms Dance Project
Open Arms Dance Project
The Open Arms Dance Project will perform outside JUMP Friday, June 11, 2021

BRANDEL: Yes. Oh, I love this question, George, because I am kind of enamored with the full spectrum of human movement. I've taught for thirteen years just little parent toddler dance classes called Boogie Babies at Parks and Rec… and all ages. And I adore the movement training I have received, and that I see professional dancers do. It's just this limited vocabulary. And when you ask one of us who's trained in ballet or a modern dancer any dance form to dance, we tend to use only that movement vocabulary. There's so much movement potential that exists outside of that trained dance vocabulary and in Open Arms. I welcome dancers as young as seven years old and I kind of set the age at that because we do rehearse for over an hour once a week, and that does take a certain level of concentration and focus, but no upper age limit. And with that age range and then the diversity that we've talked about already, that incorporates smooth and sharp and fast and slow and bound and free movement… just each person has this own little way of moving that contributes to the greater whole and really makes for a huge, lovely spectrum of dance and movement. And people in wheelchairs….their wheelchairs move in interesting ways to

PRENTICE: Three films will be featured in addition to live performance. And the films will be on the so called Jump-O-Tron, JUMP’s idea of a Jumbotron. I want to play a clip of one of these films.. Let's listen.

(play clip)

Megan, tell the audience what what we're looking at.

BRANDEL: So each dancer created their own solo movement and then we all gathered at the Idaho Botanical Garden in different little areas and we did our solos and then I thought, oh, this needs a little something more. One dancer had used a poem and I thought, “What if I write a poem that is descriptive and also serves to make this film fully accessible for somebody who is blind or low vision?” And so what is happening is each dancer has a metaphor, and that metaphor gives us insight about the colors that they're wearing or the colors that surround them and the quality of their movement. I think the very favorite thing for me about this is that each dancer speaks their metaphors, so we get to hear their voices and that gives us so much information about the person who's moving.

PRENTICE: And the film is an award winner, it picked up an award at the Idaho Screen Dance Festival. Again, three films and a live performance. It's important for our listeners to know this is a free event and all ages. And when I say “all ages,” wow, I can't imagine a child watching this, and not being enlightened, encouraged, and delighted. Boy, this is the definition of a family event.

BRANDEL: Yeah. And furthermore, there are all these Illumabrite sculptures and artwork that will still be up for everybody to enjoy. And so, it's just going to be a really wonderful evening.

PRENTICE: She is Megan Brandel, artistic director of Open Arms Dance Project. Congratulations. This is a pretty exciting evening for you. And all the best to you.

BRANDEL: Thank you so much, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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