"A season of awareness" is how Bodiography Contemporary Ballet artistic director Maria Caruso describes her company's current offerings.
In November, as part of its annual Multiplicity program, Bodiography presented "No More Bad Hair," a piece touching on breast-cancer awareness. Caruso's latest ballet, Heart (Function vs. Emotion), tackles awareness of cardiovascular disease.
Caruso regards the 90-minute ballet, to be performed Feb. 19 and 20 at the Byham Theater, as a continuation of the new direction she has taken in her choreographic career. It's a direction that moves beyond rock 'n' roll ballets (like 2009's "Something About Nothing," set to music by Pink Floyd) and into more socially conscious ones.
"My main goal as an artist is to allow the audience to feel and to take something away from our performances that is much deeper than simply being a spectator to them," says Caruso.
The idea for Heart (Function vs. Emotion) began as a suggestion by UPMC Cardiovascular Institute cardiologist Dennis M. McNamara, who had a walk-on role in one of Caruso's ballets. He approached Caruso about creating a work that would raise awareness about heart disease. To help with research, McNamara offered Caruso access to heart patients at UPMC, and the chance to observe a heart transplant.
"Having the opportunity to watch a heart transplant was a spiritual experience for me," says Caruso.
Caruso's ballet incorporates the gestures, movement physicality and emotional states of several pre- and post-transplant heart patients, as well as those living with other forms of heart disease such as pulmonary arterial hypertension.
Heart is set to a commissioned score by Pittsburgh's Cello Fury (formerly Cellofourte), derived from the group's album Combustion. Caruso calls the music the pulse of the ballet, a two-act work featuring some 20 performers, including six actual heart patients.
The first act, "Function," introduces audiences to the six patients whose personal stories helped create the ballet. Caruso says she also tried to capture in a very abstract sense what she experienced in the operating room during the two transplants she witnessed.
"Emotion," the ballet's second act, is a glimpse of each of the six patients' experiences with heart disease and how it changed their lives. That includes both transplant recipients feeling they have a new lease on life, and others grappling with the physical restrictions the disease has placed on their lives.
"This ballet is the accomplishment of a lifetime," says Caruso. "And if I never did anything else artistic in my life again, this ballet would leave me satisfied with my artistic accomplishments."
Bodiography Contemporary Ballet performs Heart (Function vs. Emotion) 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 19, and 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 20. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $26.50-45.50. 412-456-6666 or www.bodiographycbc.com