March 3 2010 12:00 AM

’The Body’ brings surprising insights to choreographers



We often take our bodies for granted.

Breathing, walking, getting us through our daily life goes unappreciated. We watch the Olympics and envy the impressive athleticism of the athletes who are the best in the world. We watch a dance concert and admire the flexibility and rhythm of dancers’ bodies.

But “The Body,” the upcoming dance performance from Happendance, aims to demonstrate through dance just how incredible everyone’s body is.

“You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to have respect for your own vehicle to travel through the world,” said Missy Lilje, co-artistic director of “The Body.” “Every single body has its own intelligence. I think we forget that a lot of times. Any single human body has that wisdom. I hope that people look at themselves with a renewed respect and kind of wonder about that.”

“The Body” consists of nine original dances highlighting the human body and how people use it to communicate and express themselves in the world. Matt Bebermeyer co-choreographed and performs in Happendance’s "The Body." Bebermeyer, the other co-artistic director for the program, will perform in the show as well as directing. Both Bebermeyer and Lilje choreographed several dances.

“The show was constantly changing and evolving, kind of like the body,” Bebermeyer said of the creative process. “It’s been great to explore all these ideas, and as a choreographer, being able to play with the idea of how the body is perceived and how we perceive the world around us through our physical being.”

Lilje worked with another choreographer, Lisa Whiting-Dobson, on one of the pieces in the program that involved the Happendance 2 company, which consists of dancers aged 12-18. Before the rehearsal process, Lilje and Whiting-Dobson asked the performers to write down their opinions about body image and how they feel about their own bodies.

“We were shocked and horrified to find that these beautiful girls have so much trouble with their body image,” Lilje said. “It was a much more profound experience than I ever thought it was going to be. I almost decided not to continue with it because there were a lot of tears.”

One of the girls was even diagnosed with anorexia in the process. Lilje said they had many discussions about body image that allowed them to voice their hidden feelings about their bodies.

“They are all so beautiful and you would never think that any of them have an issue,” Lilje said. “But they do and it’s invisible. They have these issues that wouldn’t have been brought to light if we didn’t ask them these questions. It allowed them to give a voice to these feelings that are so secret. I hope they realized that they are not alone and they do deserve to feel good about themselves. They may not be there yet but I hope it started a process of healing for them.”

Chelsea Finnie, 17, one of the members of the Happendance 2 company, said the experience was eye-opening.

“You don’t really realize how you feel about yourself until you have to write it all down and create a whole movement about what your feelings are that nobody knows,” she said. “Even girls who you think have nothing to fear about anything completely hear anything. To hear all of us have something bad to say was definitely unexpected.”

Bebermeyer said that all the dancers and choreographers learned more about themselves and their bodies through all of the dances, and he hopes the audience will go on the same journey they did while watching the show.

“As we went through the show, part of our process was exploring different ways how we manifest ourselves through the body,” he said. “I hope it triggers them to think about how they’re perceived in the world and how they perceive other people through their experience, physically.”

"The Body"

8 p.m. Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6 Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road $15 general admission, $12 students and seniors Preview at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 4; $5 donation suggested (517) 333-3528