When New York choreographer Tamar Rogoff invited Gregg Mozgala, an actor with cerebral palsy, to dance the role of the faun in an original production, they had no idea that their collaboration would lead to a profound and unexpected physical transformation.
At the time they met in 2008, Mozgala was 30 years old and had been diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that disrupts communication between the brain and muscles. As what physicians call a “toe-walker,” he had never felt his feet on the ground. Although he had no dance experience, Mozgala’s physicality, energy and unique gait inspired Rogoff to cast him as a faun, a mythological creature with the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat.
As they began preparing for the production, Rogoff introduced Mozgala to a release technique called “shaking,” which she had learned decades earlier from a ballet teacher with polio. “It’s like your body is taking over, beyond what you’re telling it,” she says. “Kind of doing it on a subconscious level; just releasing tension. It can look pretty strange — from quiet trembling to erratic, strange stuff. But people feel very calm and have more feeling tone in their body after they do this.” The changes that Mozgala experienced were remarkable, and Rogoff sensed the importance of sharing what they learned with the dance, medical and disability communities.
Mozgala’s transformation is documented in “Enter the Faun,” which will be screened for the first time in Arizona on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m., at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, as part of the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival. Rogoff will hold a Q & A session after the film.
She will also present a Body Scripting workshop on Friday, Jan. 15 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Tucson J. This in-depth exploration of her movement techniques is geared for anyone interested in the body, including those who dance, teach dance or yoga, are interested in therapeutic movement instruction, or have cerebral palsy or other mobility issues. No prior movement training is required.
This is all part of the outreach that Rogoff says the film has inspired, as groups around the world form “Cerebral Posses,” which empower people with cerebral palsy to gain knowledge, dialogue with experts in the medical and arts communities, and experientially work with their bodies.
“It’s a room full of people who get down on mats and explore. People who don’t come out of their wheelchairs, come out of their wheelchairs. And we do it all with an artistic focus,” says Rogoff, whose cousin, Edward Rogoff, is a radiation oncologist in Tucson.
According to Rogoff, there is no conventional treatment for cerebral palsy after the age of 12 or 14. “It’s after childhood that people are developed and they’re far from the original trauma at birth, with the brain. That’s the time they actually should be engaged in their bodies.” As they grow more aware of their bodies through movement, they experience a change that comes from a deeper place, she says.
Tickets for “Enter the Faun” are $8 for members of the Tucson J, students and seniors; $9 for general admission. Full season passes for the 25th Annual Tucson International Jewish Film Festival are available for $125 and six-ticket packages for $40. The cost to attend Rogoff’s Body Scripting workshop is $18 for members of the Tucson J, students and seniors; $36 for non-members.
For tickets, go to http://tucsonj.cc/tijff2016 or call 299-3000.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is an award-winning writer and editor living in Tucson.