. . . I broke my ankle working on the Milos Forman film of Hair. It was the first time in my life that I had lost my mobility, the first time that I would have to create dance in some manner other than on my body. It was the first time that I wouldn’t be able to show the dancers what I wanted but rather would have to tell them.
That’s a huge difference for a choreographer. I managed to get through it; for eight weeks I went into the studio and forced myself to visualize what I wanted and then translate it into language that the dancers would understand.
I didn’t enjoy it, but I discovered two new skills: One, I could verbalize my ideas better than I’d thought I could. Two, I had a talent for refusing to be defeated by reality.
In this regard, my heroes are those who’ve prevailed over far greater losses than I’ve ever had to face.
Henri Matisse was bedridden in his home in the south of France with only the use of his arms and imagination in his final years. But he wasn’t going to stop working. His mind wouldn’t rest. So he came up with a new way of working: paper cutouts. These exquisitely pure creations, out of the most childlike material, are some of my favorite works by Matisse. They are the essence of his art. I doubt he would have ever made them if some of his other skills had not been taken away.
Alicia Alonzo, the great Cuban dancer, was blind for much of her career, but she still performed well into her seventies (the age is just as remarkable as the lack of sight). She could always tell where she was onstage by feeling the heat from the stage lights.
The giant in this category of course is Beethoven, who composed many of his greatest works after he lost his hearing. Freed from the distractions of the new, he reconnected with the ideas and themes that had moved him in his youth, to mine the richness of his classical heritage. We can take great inspiration from this.
This is part of the What creators do series, where I look to people who are creating something meaningful in the world — and pass their insights on to you.
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