G Force

Inspired by dance, disability

(Marianne Karmel)
By Linda Matchan
Globe Staff / April 29, 2011

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Q. How did you get involved in the world of disability?

A. My shtick is to find and develop and spotlight new forms of movement and dance. When I was creating the first aerial festival I found an amazing wheelchair company in California that was doing aerial work. I worked with them to create a wheelchair festival and discovered this new movement form — wheelchair dance — and my interest in and advocacy for this form has continued with GIMP. It represents a very new way of seeing dance, of moving, and part of my ongoing passion is to challenge people’s perception of what a dancer looks like and who can be a dancer.

Q. What is GIMP?

A. GIMP is a professional virtuosic international touring company that happens to have half its performers missing limbs or have other disabilities. Currently it’s an eight-member troupe.

Q. Does the name GIMP offend people?

A. “Gimp’’ has a variety of definitions in the Oxford dictionary. The definition most people respond to is a lame person, and it’s a term most people would not use, to be nice. But it’s often how the disabled community refers to itself. Our piece uses all the definitions of “gimp,’’ which includes a ribbon-like braided fabric. It also means “fighting spirit and vigor’’ and “to vacillate and move ecstatically.’’ If you see the full-length GIMP, you see elements of all these definitions represented in the performance.

Q. Describe the piece at the ICA.

A. GIMP is very much a collision of two worlds coming together that are not supposed to coexist: dance and disability. It uses aerial silk techniques but is contemplative. It has a sense of sensuality and beauty, not just about high-flying tricks but about the relationship between two people. The performers — Jennifer Bricker and Nate Crawford — both come from the gymnastic world. Nate is an able-bodied performer, and Jen is an amazing performer born with no legs: She was a competitive gymnast and tumbler and trampolinist. With the harbor as the backdrop, you’ll see intertwining and flying and billowing and cocooning of two beautiful but very different bodies. We have [saxophonist] Stan Strickland — Boston’s famous jazz man — performing live as a vocal accompaniment. But he’s not playing jazz; he’s breathing into the mike. It’s 20 minutes of this amazing breathing score.

Q. Has the character of Artie on “Glee’’ done anything for wheelchair dance?

A. No. If they really wanted some really intriguing, groundbreaking wheelchair dancing, they should have hired a choreographer who has a proven track record in choreographing for wheelchairs. In the world of disability there’s a phrase that sums it up: “Nothing about us, without us.’’

Linda Matchan can be reached at This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jeremy Alliger
Alliger, who lives in Jamaica Plain, was the founder and director of Dance Umbrella, which for 20 years brought contemporary dance performances to Boston. He’s now the executive producer of Alliger Arts, which produces unique performing arts projects. He’s also the producer of the GIMP Project, a dance production by a troupe called GIMP, made up of disabled and able-bodied performers. He’s a board member of VSA Massachusetts, which promotes the involvement of people with disabilities in cultural life. As part of its 30th anniversary celebration this week, an excerpt from GIMP — an aerial silk duet — will be performed tonight at 7 at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the HarborWalk, weather permitting.