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A moving performance: Artist creates show about life with ALS

The Brooklyn Paper
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Art isn’t just imitating life. For this artist, her work is also a way to live.

Artist Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith will give a performance about her experiences living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — at Five Myles Gallery in Crown Heights on Dec. 19–21. In “Bloom. She is Descending,” Abromaitis-Smith explores the way the disease affects how she moves in her own body. But the artist said the performances themselves have also helped her cope with those changes.

“Part of why I am making the show is so that I have a way to deal with what is happening — I really try to make sense of it and it gives me a focus,” said Abromaitis-Smith, who is a former puppeteer who lives in the Bronx and has been performing about her experience since the summer of 2013. “When I’m on stage, I guess I can tap into the emotions that I’m wrestling with every day, but I also feel like I’m really trying to get in touch with something more universal.”

The show is rooted in nature — Abromaitis-Smith uses dirt, twigs, and other natural fibers in her performances. The performance is very raw and earthy, she said, and was partially inspired by an ephemeral goddess she dreamed of the night before she was before she was diagnosed with the disease in 2012.

“I had a dream that there was a goddess who was made out of flowers and plants and she told me — and I’m quoting her — she said, ‘You have to learn how to physically manifest differently,’ ” said Abromaitis-Smith. “And then she would sing and every time she sang she had human form, she had skin, and became human and then she would go back to being flowers.”

Abromaitis-Smith no longer has the dexterity to use puppets, so she performs alongside Sarah Lafferty, who plays the goddess, and dancer Misha Braun. A band also accompanies the trio onstage.

One of the show’s designers said the performance highlights Abromaitis-Smith’s connection with nature and the ways Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis has changed her daily life.

“The way she feels about the physical world is completely different — the disease has changed her entire relationship to the world we take for granted,” said Jessica Scott, who has been friends with Abromaitis-Smith for 10 years and is the designer of an installation and puppets used in the performance. “It is the content that is really ambitious and scary and personal and really intimate. I’ve never done a show that has been about something so important to me.”

But Abromaitis-Smith said the show is about more than just her disease, and she hopes audiences will connect with the over-arching theme.

“Clearly, this show is my story with the disease but I’m hoping very much that anyone who sees it, whether or not they know me, can take something about the human experiences with them,” she said.

“Bloom. She is Descending” at Five Myles Gallery [558 Saint Johns Pl. between Classon and Franklin avenues in Crown Heights, (718) 783–4438, www.fivemyles.org]. Dec. 19–21 at 7pm. Installation on view Dec. 20 and 21 at 1–6 pm.

Updated 2:07 pm, December 17, 2014
Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at vogle@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507. Follow her attwitter.com/oglevanessa.
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