Most Philadelphians are familiar with the Mütter Museum, a unique museum located in Center City that showcases historic medical anomalies and vintage medical equipment. It’s the only place in the city that you can go to view an entire cabinet full of objects that had once been swallowed, or so I sincerely hope. The museum, with its macabre glass cases of organs and bones, makes for an unlikely venue for a dance performance. However, this week only, on February 20th and 21st, choreographer Jae Hoon Lim takes on the challenge with his new work and master’s thesis, Life Between.
A graduate student of Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, Lim feels that the Mütter is an ideal setting for his work. “When I first visited the museum a few years ago, I was completely astonished by the medical artifacts. As a choreographer, I found the artifacts tremendously inspiring as they suggested to me different methods of navigating the world,” said Lim.
His thesis examines the ways in which various skeletal disorders affect the way the human body moves and its ability to adapt to disability. “Each specimen provided me with unique choreographic ideas such as moving and fitting into the shape of a spine and ribcage [affected with] scoliosis; or dancing with a restricted range of motion,” said Lim. “I thought, ‘There has to be a dance performance at this venue, incorporating movements inspired by these fascinating medical artifacts!’”
Lim’s work is the first and only dance performance to be featured at the Mütter Museum. Fittingly, the venue plays an integral role in the performance, since Lim was so heavily inspired by the displayed models and artifacts. Before beginning his choreography routine, he researched one of the Mütter’s skeletal models of Harry Eastlack, a patient with Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (F.O.P.) to gain a better understanding of how the disease may have affected him. In fact, Lim was so inspired by Eastlack that the title of the work, Life Between, is derived from Eastlack’s experience. He was born with a healthy body that later mutated, causing all of his soft tissues to ossify into bone. Though Eastlack became physically impaired, he lived for another 40 years. Thus, as Lim articulates, “His exuberant life remained unscathed between the bones.”
Still, not all of Lim’s inspiration was found within the museum. Lim’s work was also inspired by his own experiences and the experiences of his dancers. After enduring three major knee surgeries and suffering from two fractured ankles, Lim himself was temporarily disabled. “Each injury was a painful reminder of how fragile we are and how we take our healthy bodies for granted. It also revealed to me what is needed to overcome physical adversities caused by trauma or disease: empathy and compassion toward each other,” said Lim. “Viewing the specimens [displayed in the museum] reminded me of my experience with disability and our tenacity in persevering through adversity.” Additionally, Lim found inspiration in one of the dancers featured in the performance, Sarah Warren. Warren is afflicted with scoliosis, but has enjoyed success as a dancer despite a 50-degree curvature in her thoracic spine. She represents an ideal example of Lim’s thesis on the body’s determination to overcome physical adversity.
Lim hopes the performance will personally resonate with his audience, as we all must overcome adversity at some point in our lives. In this original, distinctive work, he emphasizes the importance of empathy and compassion for others and ways in which we all must individually navigate our lives and our bodies. February 20-21, 2014, collegeofphysicians.org/mutter-museum.