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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Beautiful Minds

Demolition Derby explores mental deterioration without turning it into “therapy theater.”



Art is subjective, there’s no doubt about it. But choreographer Erik Stern didn’t necessarily find that approaching a subject entirely based on his own perspectives made the creation any easier. If anything, it made that creation harder.


Demolition Derby: When a Mind Loses Its License to Drive'an evening-length piece of dance theater'is the direct culmination of Stern’s trials and tribulations as primary caretaker for his parents. His father passed away due to complications from vascular dementia, and his mother currently suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. And the development of a work based on such an intensely personal experience came with its own unique difficulties. Struggling from the very beginning, Stern anxiously wrestled with the mere thought of turning such personal challenges into public fodder. Then dawned the notion of a demolition derby.


“It immediately clicked and became something I was willing to take a risk on,” explains Stern. “The metaphor gave it some essential motion which allowed me to not only deal with the pain but also the ridiculous situations the disease often puts you in.nn

Demolition Derby easily could have ended up as “therapy theater.” Instead, Stern’s work deftly explores and challenges the disease while simultaneously entertaining. At times, the dancers’ intricate movements are clearly influenced by the overwrought frustrations that result from daily plights and predicaments. Interwoven are spoken-word anecdotes that demonstrate the complexities of the doctor/patient/caregiver triangle. And even though it’s never as easy as a figurative tap dance, Stern himself does some literal tapping as further metaphor on how to deal with the seemingly mundane advice doled out by group therapists.


The willingness to delve into such darkness is also driven by Stern’s desire to heighten public awareness'Demolition Derby’s premiere will coincide with National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Furthermore, the production will also be included as an element in the Utah Psychological Association’s fall conference. Each performance will be followed by a panel discussion including local doctors and professionals in both the arts and medical caregiving communities.


“It’s a touchy thing,” says Stern. “First and foremost, I want the work to be engaging. I want people to get tossed around in the way the people that suffer do. But once I started doing this, with my research over and rehearsals starting, it occurred to me that it could also raise awareness; it could get people talking.nn

If statistics bear witness, it’s definitely time such discussions are brought to the forefront. According to the recently released study, “State-Specific Projections Through 2025 of Alzheimer Disease Prevalence,” the United States as a whole will suffer from a 44 percent increase of those affected by the debilitating disease. Even more alarming, the study shows that those living in the Western United States will experience the greatest increase with Utah alone skyrocketing up a projected 147 percent.


“The problem is that a lot of times, there’s something a little bit leaden about support groups,” says Stern. “People are always talking about how you have to do things right, how you have to do them a specific way. The cool thing about art is that you can intentionally do them the wrong way. So a lot of what I’m doing is having fun with that'poking at the soft, often silly center of what people might experience while exploring the family’s wrenching pain'my pain.nn

With heartfelt gravity bolstering Stern’s every word, it seems obvious that to him, such experiences with mental deterioration often commingle with the absurdity of the situation. Of course, there is unbelievable pain; of course, there is unimaginable suffering; and of course, there is often the hard finality of death. But through the creativity of artistic exploration, it becomes possible to grasp the intrinsic beauty more clearly. You can deal with the irrationality by undermining it with mirth and perhaps even clarify that seemingly lost meaning of life. Demolition Derby


Rose Wagner Center
nBlack Box Theatre
n138 W. 300 South
nNov. 2-4
n7:30 p.m.