Karen Peterson and Dancers Get Political With Scrutiny

Photo by Don Lorenz
Scrutiny: The World Gone Astray
If one word could describe the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, it would be "scrutiny." That concept is incorporated into the title of Karen Peterson and Dancers' latest international collaboration. Scrutiny: The World Gone Astray — which explores the emotional, social, and political turbulence of our times through mixed-ability dance — will make its U.S. premiere May 11 and 12 at Miami-Dade County Auditorium.

Karen Peterson, who founded the Miami mixed-ability and physically integrated dance company in 1990, says the inspiration for the profound work came at a seemingly mundane moment.

"I was actually writing a grant proposal with my collaborator, video artist Maria Lino, and all we could talk about was Trump and politics," she recalls. "We asked ourselves: ‘How could this be?’ We came up with different ways of looking at things. I gave the word 'scrutiny' to the choreographers to see what we could come up with."

The result is a one-hour piece with 14 dancers, half of them who perform with physical and visual impairments. Peterson choreographed the work along with Juan Maria Seller and Katrina Weaver in collaboration with Lino, who attended every rehearsal. The company workshopped Scrutiny for a few months before taking it to Vienna in April, where Karen Peterson and Dancers (KPD) collaborated further with Elisabeth Löffler and Cornelia Scheuer of LizArt Productions for the world premiere. The two Austrian artists will visit Miami this month to perform at the U.S. premiere.

Peterson is no stranger to diplomacy through art, even as countries fight over political power. International cultural exchange grants from Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Cultural Affairs Council have afforded her the opportunity to travel and work with artists from Europe and South America over the past decade. This year was no exception.
After the Vienna performance, Peterson says, audience members wanted to know how performers from two countries could work so well together without ever having met in person prior to rehearsal. It turns out Peterson, Löffler, and Scheuer share the same dance philosophy handed down from mentor Alito Alessi, founder of DanceAbility, a contact improv company created to “decrease prejudice and misconceptions about diversity in the field of dance, and by extension in society,” according to its mission statement.

“Alessi taught us how to involve everyone in the creative process of collaboration toward performance,” Peterson says.

Though the atmosphere of collaboration flows, the four-section work still touches upon difficult moments in people’s lives involving individual and collective scrutiny.

“I was really pulled into the image of refugees and of walls,” Peterson says, "images of women possibly being enslaved, being tossed back forth on borders, and immigrants exiting countries to try to find a new beginning and how they find their way.”

The other choreographers investigate the female body from the male point of view, issues of gender, the family unit, and birth and death.

The section involving LizArt, Peterson says, evolved out of a grid where the dancers explored the journey of “going in and out of life and scrutinizing each other as individuals” and incorporates video as a third eye for the audience — yet another form of visual scrutiny.

“All the work is deeply rooted in emotion,” Peterson says. “We really tried to dig deep inside to get the emotion out in the movement without it being clichéd.”
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Courtesy of Karen Peterson and Dancers
Flooring is a key element of the set in Scrutiny and contributes to the organic, raw feeling of the choreography. Instead of moving on the vinyl sheets of a Marley surface, KPD is experimenting with a wooden floor covered with dirt and leaves. "It’s an environment that pushes boundaries," Peterson says.

“It adds a lot of depth to the movement, especially with the sound of the leaves on the wooden floor,” she notes. “It creates more of a place for the audience.”

Peterson, who considers Scrutiny a hallmark of her 27 years of working in physically integrated dance, has workshopped intensely with this latest-edition troupe. "I'm excited about this group because we've been working deeply for about four years," she says. "We took a long time to process the work. It's deep and honest."

Scrutiny: The World Gone Astray
8 p.m. Thursday, May 11, and Friday, May 12, at Miami-Dade County Auditorium On.Stage Black Box, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-547-5414; Tickets cost $10 to $20 via