“Showing Spine,” A Lecture/Performance by Alice Sheppard with a response by Chris Baswell

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm
James Room, 4th Floor Barnard Hall

Put your back into it.  Show some spine.  Embodying metaphor in a disabled dancing body.  Spine comes either from the Latin or Old French words for “thorn,” “prickle,” or, yes, “spine.”  Botanically speaking, it is, “[a] stiff, sharp-pointed process produced or growing from the wood of a plant, consisting of a hardened or irregularly developed branch, petiole, stipule, or other part; a thorn; a similar process developed on fruits or leaves.”  Anatomically, it is, “[o]ne or other of several sharp-pointed slender processes of various bones.”  Eventually, the dictionary slides down to “any natural formation having a slender sharp-pointed form” (OED: subscription only).

Before you get to the definition or, more accurately, the list of usages for the word for the backbone of vertebrates, the dictionary descriptions stress not the rigidity of the backbone itself – though rigidizing and stabilizing are some of what a backbone does – but the relationship between the outgrowths, the thorny processes, and the word itself. I'm caught here. Intrigued.

Alice Sheppard, has been a musician and professor of medieval literature; she grew up in England and moved to the United States in 1991.  Alice came to dance late in life; she began to explore movement in response to a dare from disabled dancer Homer Avila.  She soon discovered that dance was a passion.  Alice made her professional debut in New York with Infinity Dance Theater as a wheelchair dancer.  She loves to explore a wide variety of dance forms; she is particularly interested in work that challenges conventional understandings of the relationship between dance and disability.  She joined the AXIS Dance Company in 2006.

A clip of Alice Sheppard in performance with the AXIS Dance Company can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1-Tm2R4jFQ.  Alice is the dancer who begins the performance at the upper right of the screen.  Another performance can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=AaXn62CEhQk