No disabilities evident in joyful, challenging GIMP at the ICA

The words “gimp” and “dance” might seem like a contradiction in terms, but choreographer Heidi Latsky directs a performance at the Institute of Contemporary Art that unites the two rivetingly.

Her show, iGIMP/i, strives to break the judgmental stereotypes of the physically challenged. In it, she creates a poignantly provocative stage performance to engage her audiences.

Incorporating both disabled and non-disabled dancers, the piece exudes a confident defiance over our preconceived notions, daring us to redefine our conceptions of physicality and bodily limitations, both on-stage and off.

The production shifts themes and perspectives, reflecting an openness to sexuality and depicting a storm of repressed emotions.

At times the audience can sense the performers’ struggle with always attracting unwanted attention.

The routine premiered in Albuquerque, N.M. in November of 2008, followed by a showing at the North Fourth Center, New York City, in March.

The troupe comes to Boston for the first time on April 24, performing at the ICA.

Making use of the five various Oxford Dictionary definitions for the word “gimp,” the dance series incorporates everything from “ribbon-like, braided fabric” to “fighting spirit” and “vigor.”

As a prologue to the piece, Latsky has two aerial acrobats, Nate Crawford and Jennifer Bricke, hang, swing and collide on sheer red sheets, twisting them together as they flip and turn themselves and each other.

Jennifer does not have legs-her frame ends just below her torso. Her chest and upper arms provide all the strength and agility she requires to create a dizzying picture of passion alongside her co-contortionist. Jazz musician Stan Strickland provides the musical accompaniment for their graceful gymnastic feats.

There are four inter-related sections to the performance. The first two mimic traditional theater, in which the audience is treated as an invisible observer.

The last scenes explore the uncomfortable amount of attention that the physically disabled receive daily, placing the audience in the role of active watcher.

“The irony is as we break the fourth wall, there is actually less direct contact with the audience and the experience becomes more voyeuristic,” the Web site explains. Moving from stage-life to real-life, these final scenes seem to powerfully push audiences towards the undeniable, disquieted truth about their own reactions towards the disabled, causing them to stop and consider the way they regard them.

Forced to view a small sliver of the performers’ perspectives through a range of relatable emotionality-vulnerability, anger, intimacy, insecurity-iGIMP/i provides the disabled and non-disabled with common ground, touching on a universal, firmly rooted self-consciousness present in all humanity.

As Heidi Latsky comments, “In iGIMP/i, both audience and performers are aware of being watched. That provocative exchange in which our gaze is being reflected both ways leads to a shift, a questioning, and a deep sense that the lens through which we view the world has somewhat changed.”

GIMP iwill be presented at the ICA on Friday, April 24, and Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 8 pm. Student tickets are $20./i