Backstage Pass: Wobbly Dance shares their experience choreographing the Movement Chorus


Backstage Pass is a series of blog posts spotlighting PHAME’s production of The Poet’s Shadow, on stage at the Hampton Opera Center this August. Follow us backstage to hear the stories behind the opera, interviews with the cast and crew, and more!

This guest post is written by Erik Ferguson and Yulia Arakelyan of Wobbly Dance. Erik and Yulia are choreographing the rock opera’s Movement Chorus.

Yulia and Erik of Wobbly Dance.

Yulia and Erik of Wobbly Dance.

What is Wobbly Dance? Wobbly Dance is a multidisciplinary performance company that focuses on inclusive choreography and experimental filmmaking with a fantastical and slightly dark edge. Wobbly is chiefly comprised of co-artistic directors Erik Ferguson and Yulia Arakelyan with many collaborators over the past 12 years. Erik is a movement improviser trained in the Danceability method which he has taught nationally and internationally for 15 years; Yulia received her BA in Dance from the University of Washington in 2007 and was the first individual in a wheelchair to do so.

Wobbly first became attracted to PHAME several years ago after being wowed by PHAME’s production of The Wizard Of Oz. We became involved with PHAME’s rock opera project several months ago when we were invited to set the choreography for The Poet’s Shadow.

The process began for us with auditions, for which 10 students showed up. The auditions were run in the style of an improvisation workshop, a style which many of the students had never encountered before. The process was quite fun and also challenging. As one student said, “I thought we were going to get up on stage and dance in a line.” But there isn’t too much “dancing in a line” that happens in an improv class.

Erik has much experience bringing this improv method to people with physical disabilities and a bit less experience working with people with developmental or intellectual disabilities. The learning curve has been an absolute delight, with each individual bringing something special to the process. A lot has had to be learned about breaking material up into digestible chunks while respecting the varying learning styles and attention spans of each student.

So far we’ve divided our time by first doing an improvisation and then having a free dance to the music of the students choice. Now, with eight weeks to go before show time, Yulia is gathering the individual movements of each student, naming them, “Cynthia’s twist,” “Megan’s sunflower,” “Cassady’s bounce” "Jason's beat" and so on, while setting them to the opera music.

We have a ways to go in a very short time. We have tried to provide a fun experience for the students while simultaneously introducing them to the rigors of producing a professional-level evening-length show. Students with their busy summer schedules have had to learn the value of showing up to rehearsal while still balancing summer camp and other recreational pursuits. But what an amazing journey we are all in together!

Come and see The Poet’s Shadow, written and performed by PHAME students in collaboration with the Portland Opera, Wobbly Dance and several other wonderful arts professionals. The Poet’s Shadow opens on August 23rd. Come see! Wobbly Dance is eternally grateful for the support of Water in the Desert, an international dance initiative and permaculture collective and nonprofit operating out of the St John’s neighborhood in North Portland.

—Erik & Yulia

Rehearsal images by Friderike Heuer.

Anya Roberts