Karen Peterson's GRIT Pushes Limits on Mixed-Abilities Dance

Months in the making, Karen Peterson and Dancers' latest work, GRIT, debuts in its entirety this Thursday and Friday at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium.

The defining piece touches on the human experience, and is intended to showcase the strength of the renowned mixed-abilities company, which is comprised of a host of able-bodied, formally trained dancers and, yes, wheelchair-bound dancers.

With nearly 25 years in mixed-abilities dance, Peterson, a long-time Miami choreographer, says GRIT symbolizes the company's transition into a more physically complex repertoire. The various themes explored -- struggle, desperation, fear, and the fight for power and dominance -- are derived from the dancers' own experiences and perspectives.

Known for integrating multimedia, Peterson superimposes images against a luminous backdrop to tell the story of GRIT. Excerpts were introduced months back in Belgrade, Serbia, and then in Miami. But it took Peterson and co-choreographer Katrina Weaver considerable reworking to shape the final product.

"This work has been in the creative process since September 2013, with several different adaptations along the way," says Peterson.

Weaver says this piece requires dancers to have an "openness, curiosity, and willingness to be vulnerable." Dancers also pushed beyond their comfort zones. "This particular work and many other works Karen has choreographed previously have come from a place of exploration through improvisation, so you need dancers who are willing to go to a deeper, more internal and authentic place," explains Weaver. "For me this work has been about the process and a great deal of my time outside the studio has been spent processing the work through journaling and writing, constantly posing questions to myself and taking the time to process these questions for myself."

Peterson went into more detail about the latest performance with us.

Tell us about the choreographies that will be presented and why they were chosen for the show.

GRIT explores the physical, social, and emotional connotations of the word grit. We started in September with the definition of the word and what it personally meant to each dancer.

We invited [artist and filmmaker] Dinorah de Jesus Rodriquez in March to complement and support our ideas. Because she knows dance and works in video, she created transitions and connections throughout the dance to fulfill our ideas. The video does not upstage the choreography but truly supports and develops ideas that were present. We loved working with Dinorah because she is also a process artist, does not mind being in unknown territory, and very often would complete an idea that was being discussed by Katrina and me.

How did the concept for GRIT come about?

I am always amazed how individuals who use wheelchairs have to struggle and deal with the challenges of life. I am always moved by individuals who use their personal grit to rise up and meet those challenges. Everyone has a grit and uses it to their best advantage -- some with more intensity than others. We were also interested in trying to find a new movement vocabulary that had more struggle, battle, control, and power behind it. Both Katrina and I did not want to make love duets and repeat past choreographic sentimentalities.

How have company members -- both able-bodied and disabled -- responded to the piece?

Because six dance artists have contributed so deeply to the dance, I feel that a bit of their heart and soul is invested in the choreography. We have truly enjoyed working with each other and we told each other how much we appreciated each other's effort throughout rehearsals. I have worked with hundreds of dancers since 1990 and feel that the chemistry in this group is very unique. We came in with open hearts and open minds.

Karen Peterson's GRIT debuts Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, On.Stage Black Box, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets cost $15 for students and seniors and a $20 general admission. Visit

--Kai T. Hill,

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