Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rogoff On Mozgala- The Experiment

photo by Lucie Baker

The following entry is a letter that Tamar wrote to a friend detailing what they refer to as, "The Experiment," the unique year-long process of transforming Gregg into a dancer.

I first saw Gregg Mozgala, an actor with cerebral palsy, playing the part of Romeo in a very well reviewed off Broadway production. I was completely taken with his talent and something unusually strong in his energy and called him to ask if I could choreograph something for him. He thought I was crazy never having danced but said he would meet me and come to the studio to try. His upper body is beautiful by any standard --tattoos –a gun—a cross and a crowing rooster on his hard won at the gym biceps. His lower body was typically cerebral palsy-like with turned in knees and feet and the gait we associate with C.P. He had tight unyielding muscles. I didn’t plan to change anything. This is how I wanted to work with him. I have a long history of choreographing for non dancers as I did with Claire Danes. The problem was that Gregg kept falling down and was locked into a small vocabulary of see-saw movements that helped him keep his balance. He also had a whole comic routine for recovering from a fall.Together we came to the conclusion that some special training was needed especially around balance issues. So we eventually came to find this character of the Faun—We were committed to making a large scale work and to doing body work at first once a week and then everyday. I got my Guggenheim grant and dedicated it to a year in which I would explore the ways Gregg could become a dancer. He quit his temp jobs and I quit some jobs and we worked incessantly. Many psychological issues around disabilities came up. As his heels came down to the ground for the first time in 30 years and his walk changed, his identity was threatened because his old rhythms were gone. We started to notice how crossing a threshold, like a doorway, and going out into the street he became more armored and would revert to dragging his feet. Gregg is a great writer. We wrote emails back and forth during this very confused part of this year about assimilating so much change –physical and mental. He had been told he would be in a wheel chair by age 40 and besides the body work I was and am choreographing him into a leading role, partnering two amazingly well trained dancers and performing extensive solos. We perform “Diagnosis of a Faun” at Lamama Theater in December and at the Kennedy center in June. (funded by VSAarts)

At one point Oliver Sacks came to the studio and called him jokingly the cerebral palsy Nijinsky. ----

What I call the body work is not traditional and is based on my lifetime as a dancer and my interest in alignment issues and calling on my instincts and feedback from Gregg. Much of what we do makes him shake uncontrollably which functions as a release. Shaking is a healing method used by Bushman in Africa, Japan, and is related some think to the Pentecostals release during their church services. But mostly it’s a Herculean task for Gregg’s consciousness to re-route and re-pattern all day long everyday.

We have not found any easy cure but are both dedicated to this experiment as we have seen hard won results. Gregg’s fascination with his body and ever expanding confidence are a long way from his former attitudes. And his dancing is beautiful.


  1. Thanks in the name of CP patients of whom I am the father of one. Whish we could get some details. My sons heels touched the ground at the age of 11 and after Achilies Tendon operation. He leg stated to take the shape of "crane legs" that is turning inwards. Yes his heels now touch the ground but his "uncontrolable" muscle movements, especially the head continues. CP book calls it "Atetoid". He partly falls into that group. Asya Orhon from Turkish Cyprus.

  2. Ms. Rogoff, I am trying to get in touch with you to invite you (and Gregg if possible) to our symposium on children with cerebral palsy in Chicago in April 2010. Ideally this would entail a short speaking and performance piece. Will you please contact me at Thank you.

  3. Dear Ms. Rogoff,
    I am writing to you from Paris. I saw an article of you work with Gregg on the New York Times page. I watched the clip. The beauty of it enthralled me. I have not been moved like this in a long time. You are a wonderful person. Thank you for this beautiful and important work.

  4. Thank you for thinking outside of the box and not being afraid to try - BOTH of you. My son Evan is 8 and I believe is a mini Gregg - the description of Gregg (in the NYTimes article) is Evan. I would love to bring him to the show - is it appropriate for an 8 year old boy?

    Thank you - I am looking to a dance instructor here in Boston to see if we can work some "magic" with Evan.