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Petit Papillon dance company works with Crotched Mountain Foundation

Dancers rehearse Oct. 3 at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.

Dancers rehearse Oct. 3 at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.

What does it mean to dance? For four members of the Petit Papillon dance company, the answer to that question has changed profoundly. Over the past several weeks, the group has been working on an innovative production with members of the Crotched Mountain Foundation’s adaptive dance program. Using specially designed wheelchairs and imaginative choreography, they have created a dance called “Interplay” that they will perform along with dancers who have a range of physical, developmental and/or medical disabilities.

“The goal is, through dance, to create a sense of partnership and community building,” said Kelly Doremus Stuart, a Petit Papillon dance instructor who designed and directed the project. “We did a lot of exploration to find adaptations and modifications. You have to think about what will work for every dancer in the room.”

Stuart got the idea for an integrated dance last year after presenting a workshop at Crotched Mountain, a Greenfield nonprofit that provides services to people with disabilities. Inspired by the wheelchair dance techniques of Kitty Lund, a professional dancer who lost the use of her legs in an accident, Stuart went on to help with the spring recital, bringing members of Petit Papillon’s dance company to perform some pieces in the production.

This year, she decided to take it a step further and create a piece that would allow Petit Papillon dancers and Crotched Mountain dancers to dance together.

“I just wanted it to be a fun, lighthearted dance,” said Stuart, a lifelong dancer who has also worked with disabilities groups for many years. “It’s not super complex, but it really is pretty joyful.”

For the Petit Papillon dancers, the whole experience has been a joyful one. “It’s been really cool, really eye opening,” said Clara Colton Symmes, a Concord High School senior who has been in the dance company for six years. “Learning how to dance with a wheelchair was really interesting. You can do different things with them that look really awesome and feel really awesome.”

Symmes remembers watching the Crotched Mountain dancers at last year’s recital and feeling inspired by their interpretation of the music, particularly when one of the dancers, a young woman named Kailin, danced with her father. This year Symmes is dancing with Kailin, executing leaps that her partner mirrors with her arms and creating graceful movements with the wheelchair.

“It’s been really nice getting to know her,” Symmes said.

Stuart, who has a daughter with disabilities, is thrilled to see the dancers making connections. “It’s been a very powerful experience,” she said. “I love these kids at Petit Papillon because they understand that dance isn’t just about steps and poses. They understand that it’s about expressive movement. They see dance in a very broad way.”

The dancers from both groups will share a meal together tomorrow night before the performance, which will take place at 7 p.m. in the Carter Hall Theater at Crotched Mountain. Admission is free. In addition to the integrated dance, the recital will include six dances by “Active Ingredients,” the Crotched Mountain dance group, three dances by Petit Papillon dancers and a humorous theatrical movement piece.

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