The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘On Display’ movement installation examines body image

Peter Trojic in a 2018 version of “On Display” at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City; a new version of the movement installation will be in Reston. (Bhagirath Iyer)
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For an artwork that’s making strides around theworld, “On Display” places remarkable value on motionlessness.

“It’s a lot of stillness,” creator-choreographer Heidi Latsky says of the piece, a movement installation — or human sculpture court — that incorporates performers with and without disabilities. Designed to demonstrate inclusiveness and ponder society’s fixation with body image, “On Display” has been mounted internationally, in different versions, more than 200 times, Latsky estimates.

The latest iteration arrives Saturday and Sunday when Heidi Latsky Dance presents “On Display/Reston” as part of Greater Reston Arts Center’s Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival. The performances (Saturday’s is invitation-only) are mounted in partnership with Shu-Chen Cuff, of Northern Virginia’s Gin Dance Company, and Suzanne Richard of Open Circle Theatre, a D.C.-area company whose productions involve artists with and without disabilities.

During the performances, audience members will have the chance to walk among roughly 20 white-clad performers, who hold sculpturelike poses, varied with interludes of improvised movement. Showcasing a range of body types and physicality, the piece offers “a redefinition of what beauty is,” Latsky said by phone from her base in New York.

A former principal dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Latsky founded her own troupe, Heidi Latsky Dance, in 2001. Five years later, an inspiring collaboration with Lisa Bufano, an artist who was a bilateral amputee (she died in 2013), became a turning point: Latsky began integrating performers with disabilities into her work on a regular basis. Not only could such artists offer top-notch talent, she found, their involvement also made the work conceptually richer.

“Different bodies — that’s really interesting to me, just from an artistic standpoint,” Latsky says. A juxtaposition of diverse body types is more visually arresting and “brings out the humanity of the work.”

An able-bodied artist herself, Latsky emphasizes that her approach to choreographing for artists with disabilities is not opportunistic or prescriptive. “My dancers are my collaborators,” she says. “We make decisions together. I have never told them what to do.”

In 2009, while on a grant-related retreat, Latsky found herself talking to a museum curator who had been taken aback by footage of artists who had missing or atypical limbs even though statues with missing body parts — think of the Venus de Milo — struck him as beautiful.

That conversation planted the seeds for “On Display,” a project that launched in 2015 and has grown to include, among other iterations, regular performances on Dec. 3 honoring International Day of Persons With Disabilities.

Some versions of the piece incorporate more dance elements. The Reston edition will follow the simplest “On Display” blueprint, with cast members spending more time in statuelike poses. Latsky says that the artists choose their poses but that she sometimes offers guidance to ensure variety in the composition.

Performers keep their eyes open while motionless, but close them during moments of self-directed movement. As a result, the artists have the choice of returning a spectator’s gaze, or closing their eyes and shifting position. This control factor may be empowering, especially for performers accustomed to being stared at in daily life.

Richard, who has been working on casting the local artists with disabilities who will appear in “On Display/Reston” and who is also performing in the piece herself, says the installation could help some audience members transcend the impulse to see disability as alien otherness.

“It’s about moving past that moment of discomfort” and seeing “the common human experience” in different types of bodies, Richard says.

She and other performers with disabilities, she points out, “Are unique artists and unique people, and the disability is really not the main focus of our lives. So get over it!”

If “On Display” can be empowering on a social and philosophical level, it is challenging on a technical one. Embodying stillness “is an endurance test,” Latsky says. “It’s a very difficult thing to do.”

Simply maintaining facial expressions and eye focus for such a performance requires “very strong inner peace, and inner control, to stay grounded,” says Cuff, who will perform in “On Display/Reston,” alongside Gin Dance colleagues.

The roster of performers will also include members of Heidi Latsky Dance, as well as individuals with spinal cord injuries with whom the troupe is currently collaborating, Latsky says.

With its diverse, inclusive cast, “On Display/Reston” is a resonant project for the current moment, Latsky believes. “This is really a piece about us coming together and being really vulnerable together,” she says. As such, “I think that it speaks to true democracy.”

Reston Town Center, 11900 Market St., Reston.

703-471-9242 or

Date: Sunday (the performance on Saturday is invitation-only).

Admission: Free.