Chicago’s DisFest showcases the extensive work of artists with disabilities

Chicago
By Chicago 4 Min Read

At Saturday’s inaugural DisFest at the Chicago Cultural Center, Robby Lee Williams moved with grace as he glided across the floor with his dance partner Tatiana Castañeda, lifting and spinning her as they performed a duet.

Called “Boyh,” the piece explores the intimacy of caring for a partner with a disability through choreography by Julia Cox at MOMENTA and music performed by a string quartet and piano.

In a second piece, Williams and his partner joined two other groups of dancers to perform a tango.

To be able to perform the complex movements required by the dance, Williams uses a specially designed wheelchair, equipped with two metal arms with bicycle brakes attached to the wheels. The chair gives him the ability to raise both arms to dance with his partner and also to lean on the brakes to move and turn the chair.

“It’s such an intimate dance, you have to be so close to your partner,” Williams said. “So having this amount of control makes it easier to push and play with the movement.”

Tatiana Castañeda and Robby Lee Williams, who uses a wheelchair, duet at the first Chicago DisFest at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Tatiana Castañeda and Robby Lee Williams perform a duet called “Boyh,” which explores the intimacy of caring for a disabled partner, at the first ever DisFest Saturday at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Kaitlin Washburn/Sun Times

Williams, who lives in Humboldt Park, got his start in dance doing musical theatre. After college, she started dancing with Tango 21 Dance Company. She uses a wheelchair after having a spinal cord injury five years ago.

“There’s not much exposure for disabled dancers. Before my injury, I had no idea it was a thing,” Williams said of the importance of venues like DisFest.

Not limited to dance, the festival showcased creativity across a range of mediums, including acting, film and the visual arts, such as the multimedia works of Deanna Krueger.

Krueger Saturday’s work was created by painting on old medical X-ray and MRI film, which he allows to dry before tearing it apart and stitching the pieces back together.

Krueger even brought the film to the festival for other attendees to tear and cut.

“It’s cathartic,” she explained. “For some, they’ve had to deal with constant medical appointments where they’ve been prodded and prodded and probably had countless scans done. Today they can rip this film to vent their anger, their sadness”.

Deanna Krueger, an artist from Chicago, presented her mixed media paintings made with medical x-ray film and acrylic paint.

The work of artist Deanna Krueger on display Saturday which showcased mixed media paintings made with medical x-ray film and acrylic paint.

Kaitlin Washburn/Sun Times

DisFest was created by Ladonna Freidheim through her non-profit organization ReinventAbility to celebrate the work of artists whose disabilities manifest themselves in different ways, not always in visible ways.

Six short films were also screened during the events, including “JMAXX and The Universal Language,” which depicted a teenager with autism learning hip-hop to communicate and express himself.

“It’s really important to show that disability isn’t always a wheelchair,” Freidheim said. “Just because someone is able to sustain their performance doesn’t mean they don’t have a disability.”

Advertisements
Share This Article

It was Thursday night when we started to negotiate. Do we need to evacuate to the south or

It was Thursday night when we started to negotiate. Do we need

By Chicago

“Please go to a safer place. Your lives matter more than the news.” This is what a news a

“Please go to a safer place. Your lives matter more than the

By Chicago

“Botched” star @drdubrow took some time away from #BravoCon to fill us in on some of the h

“Botched” star @drdubrow took some time away from #BravoCon to fill us

By Chicago