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Dances for a man with one leg

dances for a man with one leg

An account of a challenging integrated-dance research & creation project.

…whose seeds were planted in the spring of 2014 at the Guelph Dance Festival where award-winning contemporary dance choreographer Maxine Heppner created a community arts piece with 48 performers. In the cast was Lawrence Shapiro, performer of integrated dance-theatre and an advocate for disability arts particularly regarding the amputated body. In May 2015 Lawrence joined an intensive workshop and training period with Maxine to learn more of her approach to performance and creation and to develop a self-solo he was creating.

In September 2015 Lawrence challenged Maxine to join him to research a new landscape of dance with him, one that included his achievements and limitations being a one-legged dancer.

In Spring 2016 the 4-month in-studio research period was the inaugural dance project of the Ontario Arts Council’s Deaf and Disability Arts program. Maxine and Lawrence were joined by dance-artists Mateo Galindo-Torres and Suzanne Liska. Lawrence asked for a professional approach where he would be pushed to technical and expressive regions that were previously not accessible to him. Maxine, Suzanne and Mateo obliged. Interaction was direct and intense for everyone. Questions. Learning. More questions. Discovery. Laughter. Fear. Encouragement. Boundaries. More questions. Some answers. Frustration. Insult. Recovery. Vulnerability. Discovery. Always questions. Some answers. Pain. Joy. Pushing. Caring. For each other. For the art. 

The work was raw in every way.

We experimented with training techniques, with adjustments to professional rehearsal protocols to integrate diverse needs of all the artists, with pure aesthetic and with story-telling genres, with highlighting the disabled, with integrating all abilities as a unified whole. By June 27 we had created 11 dance studies, approximately 40 minutes of material, that we revealed in a first theatrical showing at Aki Theatre. The audience, as witnesses, shared their responses to the work.

The inquiry:

  • Technique: To find ways to move through limitations and expand abilities to dance in all fullness;

  • Integration: To make connections between disabled and able-body movement worlds;

  • Creation: To create dance studies both of pure movement and dance-theatre.

  • Imagery & Meaning: To consider socio-political implications of stage interactions and imagery; to discover how this work resonates with the public through a research-in-progress showing June 27.

lawrence's thoughts

Lawrence's Thoughts

Program Notes: Thoughts from Lawrence's Head

“Thinking Outside the Leg”

I’m lying on the floor of a rehearsal space in west Toronto. And I can’t get up. “Do you know how hard this is for me?” I ask Maxine, as if I expect her to start weeping in sympathy. For me to sit up using only upper body strength with so much lack of musculature in the lower body seems unreachable. For the umpteenth time, Maxine nods her head, recognizes how hard it is for me to do this and waits. It’s almost as if I need acknowledgement in order for my body to do what I want it to do. And slowly it does just that. . . I get up.

The rehearsal of this piece has been a journey: physical, emotional, political, exasperating, difficult, more difficult and then more difficult. The weeks of fitness training prior to the first rehearsal, the endless hours of exploration with Mateo and Suzanne, all of us trying to figure out what I can do, what I can’t do, what would work, what wouldn’t work and all the while my constant expectation that those around me should feel some sort of awe at what I’m trying to achieve. But the awe never came. Instead, there was an ongoing professional curiosity about what it was that we were all trying to achieve, namely the creation of a physical dialogue among people whose bodies communicated in their own way. That curiosity led all of us to a place of trust, mutual acceptance and ceaseless journeying to a destination we could not define but that we knew was within reach of all of us.

There actually came a point where the process seem to take us ‘beyond the leg’ as if the limb was not the anchor of the piece, as if my movements were being led by an energy that I was taking in through my fellow dancers. When I “push down” Mateo, when the three of us do seated repetitive motions, when Suzanne teases me with her solo dance at the outset, all of it seems to create a dynamic far beyond what simply is being seen on stage.

After many weeks of rehearsal, this journey of discovery has finally led us to the Aki Theatre and Maxine’s vision of the work.


I am indebted to my choreographer and my fellow dancers for helping me to “think outside the leg”.

I can get up a lot faster now too.


Lawrence Shapiro

maxine's thoughts

Maxine's Thoughts

Post performance: Thoughts from Maxine's Head 

The “Journey” that Lawrence writes of has been an intense one for all of us. He challenged me to bring out expressive and physical qualities that he had never revealed or mastered.  Not only did he crave an extended range of movement abilities, he wanted to perform as himself, without any external devices. To be seen as a one-legged man expressing the fullness of his humanity. We all wanted to discover what interactions were possible when dancing from ones’ “authentic self”. 

This took courage on his part and much more work than he’d expected, but he persevered. This is a continuing journey that all artists go on as they develop their craft, skills and personal voice and it is fraught with moments of exhilaration, determination, exhaustion, fear, loathing, vulnerability and victory. And it took courage for me and Suzanne and Mateo as we all stepped into new territory that revealed surprising boundaries, freedoms, and expressive territories: technical, artistic and political.


I have been working with performers of all abilities throughout my 40+ year career as creator and educator in contemporary performing arts. This project of discovering has been particularly enriching. I am looking forward to following where the journey will lead us.


I thank Michela Sisti, Michelle Silagy, Christos Giotis, James Kendal, Takako Segawa, Dustin and all the “witnesses” who contributed to our process.


I especially thank Lawrence for initiating the project and Lawrence, Suzanne and Mateo for the determination, generosity, honesty, and yes, love, that we shared. I believe these are the fundamental qualities that imbued the work with its power, and actually that make life worth living.

Maxine Heppner

audience's thoughts

Audience's Thoughts

“strongly touching—strength in vulnerability.”

“I sensed what Lawrence describes as “the creation of a physical dialogue among people whose bodies communicate in their own ways.”


“sequences / scenes with the dancers exposing their “id” in public…allowed private thoughts to be revealed publicly on the stage—courageous place to travel through.”


“a dialogue between real and ideal self images?”

“ strong messages advocating for people with disabilities being integrated into society as part of the diversity and difference of each individual.”


“Interesting to witness the flow of nuanced bodily expression through all the bodies of the performers. Softness allowing vulnerable moments to appear contrasted with the strength of large muscle actions.”


“After performance discussion (on how you technically created some of the material) illuminated the research material.”


“Maxine your Choreography and art direction totally resonated with my wife and I.  Lawrence your performance in real life was totally cool…loved it. It was an awesome night.”


“I was not shocked or offended by anything. The words that came to me watching Lawrence’s work were balance, and propulsion.,, you created some beautiful images”


“Very glad that you showed the removal of the prosthetic early on, because I think there is always curiosity for those of us who have no experience of prosthetics. It was certainly a striking moment, to see this new architecture of a body. And then we could settle in and watch the dance.”


“Shocked yet drawn in by strangulation action and removal of the prosthesis then tossed into the centre stage.”


“I work with people with disabilities doing dance and Expressive Arts Therapy. I’m used to seeing people with prosthetics, without them, in wheel chairs, etc  trying to live a “normal life”. I’ve also seen violence against these people just because they are different. It’s very sad! People respond to what they don’t understand or fear. The first scene points out that aspect.”


“I saw love stories, relationships of power and struggle, compassion, fear, acceptance.”


“Not shocked… I was pushed by Lawrence’s anger and the bleak images … because I couldn’t really understand that pain and fear —-pushing and trash talking a dancer, seeing a ballerina as a malevolent nightmare —-I guess it made me wonder whether there are things I am doing unconsciously as an able-bodied person that are really insulting to a disabled person because I don’t know any better…or whether this is a perspective particular to Lawrence.”


“I gathered from conversations with Maxine and Lawrence that the disabled community is highly politicized and I’m aware that I don’t know a lot about what conversations people are having around these issues.”


“a lot of pain and anger and fear…came through in the material of the piece. I wonder whether some people in the disabled community might have wanted a more positive message? But, then again, this is a piece that was very personal.”


“I really liked the dream sequence with the rolling bodies – a really wonderful and convincing journey from ‘I can’t sleep’ to ‘I’m in a dream’ without having to rely on any special effects. The bodies did all the work.”


“ (potential to) explore a larger range of state of being/ feeling within this piece.  The trio seemed to be at it’s strongest when it was Mateo and Suzanne vs. Lawrence. It would be nice to see them grow closer, more comfortable with each other during the scenes that were more about co-habiting a world.”


“I think this was very courageous. From a performance perspective it is very rewarding to watch (people) pushing themselves to their limits.”

copyright notice

copyright notice

All material, movements, images and treatments of concepts and themes written, recorded and created in the Discovering project is/are the property of Maxine Heppner.  Rights for use in any way, shape or form, anywhere in the universe, by any other individual or organization can be requested by contacting :

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