Choreographer’s Note: ‘Re:Awakenings (Dance)’ by Donna Uchizono

What a privilege and daunting task to create a dance about “Awakenings” based on the brilliant work of Oliver Sacks. Following the great Harold Pinter and his play A Kind of Alaska and the movie Awakenings is humbling. I made a conscious decision not to review the movie or see Bill Morrison’s film until after the piece was created.

I wanted to create images and movement directly from reading Awakenings, Sacks’ compassionate yet heart wrenching book recounting the lives of his patients with encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness. I normally do not create work that incorporates text but it seemed a logical and natural way of delving into this piece since Mr. Sacks is not only a neurologist of note but a gifted writer as well.

Rather than imitating images from the archival footage or the movie, it was Sacks’ own words that conjured up the imagery and movement vocabulary. As a choreographer who tends to be more abstract, I thought this was an occasion to explore a more narrative way of working and focused on the humane and tenderness of his work rather than the scientific research. The choice of music was influenced by research into Mr. Sacks’ own personal favorites. Though he stated it would be almost impossible to list ten or twenty favorite pieces of music, Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor performed by Arthur Rubenstein is one of the many pieces of music that Mr. Sacks’ enjoys.

I was able to hunt down an old LP of Rubenstein’s interpretation and I liked the use of the actual record, an item from a time passed. The projected self is a self that is caught in one moment of time and is the vehicle from which the personal voice of the temporarily “awakened” is voiced. For me, the dramatic timbre of the piece also hearkens back to an older tone or time.

State of Heads on the other hand was not created with Awakenings in mind but the genesis of the movement exploration is befitting and viewing State of Heads in light of Awakenings has been a strangely remarkable experience. Created in 1999, State of Heads explores the feeling of waiting and the passage of time in a state of hiatus where the familiar scale of time is expanded and dissolves.

Using the separation of the head from the body as a point of departure, in an exploration of disjointed-ness and the sense of a will apart from the mind driving the movement, the work creates a world of endearingly odd characters. State of Heads reveals endearment in the awkward and allows a space for the ordinary to become extraordinary.

To Mr. Sacks, a bowed head and a heartfelt honoring of your 80th Birthday.

— Donna Uchizono

Donna Uchizono is the Artistic Director of Donna Uchizono Company, a New York-based company established in 1990. Since her choreographic debut in 1988, Uchizono rapidly emerged from the “downtown scene” as a choreographer known for her spicy movement, wit and rich invention. In addition to being a Guggenheim Fellow and a Bessie Award winner, Uchizono has been recognized by many awards, most recently with a 2005 Alpert Award in Dance.

To purchase tickets to Re:Awakenings (Dance), visit:


Context Note: Donna Uchizono’s State of Heads

Where the Body Meets the Brain

“It’s an interesting concept, to make a dance about people being in a physically frozen state,” declares Donna Uchizono as she prepares her commissioned work, Out of Frame, for its April premiere.  The New York-based choreographer, too long absent from the city’s stages, is grappling with the challenges inherent in the commissioning process. It’s not the first time she’s tried it; years ago, she and John Jasperse, Jane Comfort, and Lar Lubovitch were assigned to make pieces about sections of Montana.

“That actually was fun,” she says. “But this is for Oliver Sacks: a different kind of commission. I’m incredibly humbled and honored to be part of it. It’s very different going into this: a different direction, being commissioned with a specific theme in mind.”

Invited to contribute a new dance to the first Live Ideas festival, Uchizono began by reading Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings, and listening to some of Sacks’ favorite music. “I usually have music composed; this is very different for me,” she observes. She chose Arthur Rubinstein’s recording of  Chopin’s Fantasy in F minor. “I searched the internet, bought an LP printed in the ‘60s, with all its scratches.  It has its own flavor, a sense of time long past; it has definitely influenced parts of the piece.” She’s also using excerpts from Sacks’ writing, recording her own voice reading it, in a whisper. “It’s the best choice; it conjures up an inner world, a private world.”

She immersed herself in Sacks’ text, which documents a period, in the late 1960s, when the young neurologist spearheaded a project to give L-Dopa, then an experimental drug, to patients who’d been “in a permanent sleeping state because of encephalitis for a very long period of time.”

Uchizono had been developing another dance. “It takes me a long time to sit with a piece, to do the research. I hadn’t thought about Sacks or Awakenings for years; I continued rehearsing the other piece, but had to drop it because I couldn’t wrap my head around two subjects.”

Since the commission was to be about Awakenings, “people in a frozen state, the obvious thing was to make the piece about when they wake up. But I didn’t want to do that. You have to distill and distill, try to get to the essence of his work.  There’s a sense of loss, of how sad and tragic these lives are, the profound thoughts you might have if you’d been basically asleep for 30 years.  And knowing you’re going to go back to that state. There’s such a strong narrative in Sacks’ story; how do you use dance? I tend not to do narrative work. I’m using text that I normally don’t use; Oliver Sacks is a writer!”

Uchizono plans to position herself on a ladder, conjuring up the private, inner world of the moment, almost 30 years ago, when she arrived in New York to begin her career. Sharing the stage will be video of “me at a younger age, invoking the Wah Wah Hut, the Pyramid Club and my possible job at Bonwit Teller, placing it in a time period that’s definitely past. I want to use intermittent projections as an indication of the inner world: a person talking of a specific time, stuck in one particular period. When Sacks’ people awoke, they had no idea how much time had passed.”

Her reading of Awakenings led to ideas about how to shape the movement. “There are positions a lot of the people had. I don’t want to copy them, but I do want to embody a certain sense of them; I’m using some of the tensions I see in the particular positions. Getting stuck in a certain space and time, the legs having one world and the upper body having another world.

“ The upper body is costumed; it’s much more theatrical. The legs are much more natural; they’re bare. In Out of Frame the movement is limited because I’m sitting on top of an eight-foot ladder; the more I go up there the more scared I get.  Because the rake in [the auditorium] is so steep, the ladder doesn’t appear that high, but it is.  It’s not like I’m a young, strapping thing; I’m not an acrobat or a gymnast, so there’s something fragile about being up there.

Born in Tokyo, Uchizono grew up in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. Her father, originally a Methodist minister, retrained as a psychologist, earning his Ph.D. “I grew up with a love for how the mind works.  Those ideas were always kind of present in my life; Sacks eloquently writes about the perceptions and the disorders of the mind.”

Her mother took her to see Japanese dance performances. “I learned some Japanese dance when I was really little—the tilt of your head, the weight of your bones, the subtlety between one movement and the next—and then I took ballet.”

She danced with Jeff Slayton and Lynn Dally, went to UCLA, followed Slayton to New York and then back to Long Beach where she finished her BA at Cal State Long Beach, then returned to New York in 1985 and discovered a knack for choreography. She has since made many dances and won dozens of awards; her Live Ideas evening includes a revised version of her 1999 State of Heads, changed “to emphasize some of the Sacksian characteristics, things he talks about in his work. The physical vocabulary lends itself to those ideas of speed, of small and big, of Parkinsonian space and time. There’s a lot of physical imagery I’ve taken from his books. The way I work, I lay these conceptual ideas that I use as a diving board; I don’t know what’s in the pool until I dive in. I have a dialogue with the dance: are you sure you want to go here? That’s the scary part, but the most honest way that I can work.”

— Elizabeth Zimmer

Elizabeth Zimmer writes about dance, theater, and books for Ballet Review, Dance Magazine, Metro, and other publications. She served as dance editor of The Village Voice from 1992 until 2006, and reviewed ballet for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1997 through 2005. She has reviewed dance in cities across North America, and taught writing and dance history at several universities.

Preview “Re:Awakenings” film by Bill Morrison

Recently a box containing seventeen reels of super-8 footage captured by Oliver Sacks from the 1969-70 period during which he worked with the remarkable “human statues” at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx. New York Live Arts commissioned filmmaker Bill Morrison to fashion a brief lyric distillation of the Sacks trove. The resultant short film will be shown as part of each of the Re:Awakenings theater and music events. Morrison will also discuss the making of the film on April 19th at 6pm.

The excerpt and images below provide a preview of the film.

Tickets to join Bill Morrison as he discusses Re:Awakenings can be purchased here:


How They Met: Tobias Picker and Oliver Sack’s Friendship

In 2010, Oliver Sacks and composer Tobias Picker were interviewed about their friendship for this article in London’s Independent.  Tobias’ Awakenings suite for chamber orchestra is featured in Re:Awakenings (Music) on this Fridaypart of the Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks. They each spoke highly of the other and the complexity and playfulness of their relationship.

Picker says of Sacks, “He has this wonderful empathy, and I guess the fact that he was interested in my music and my Tourette’s together helped me. It made me see my music in a different way – is the Tourette’s present in it? I believe it is.”

Sacks says of Picker, in describing what makes him unique, “I had met visual artists and performers with Tourette’s, but not a composer. Almost immediately I fell under the spell of his music. I liked him very much as an individual, too, and almost forgot he had Tourette’s. The first time I mentioned him in print was in the preface to The Island of the Colorblind, where I referred to the effect a piece of his music called The Encantadas had on me. I was almost hypnotised by it and would play it again and again on the cassette in my car.”

To read the complete article, visit–tobias-picker-2086659.html.

To purchase tickets to Re:Awakenings (Music), visit:

Recommended Reading: ‘Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks’

Oliver Sacks, a physician and author, has been called “the poet laureate of medicine” by The New York Times. His books and essays, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, are used in schools and universities around the world.

In his books, Sacks describes patients struggling to live with brain conditions ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to autism, Parkinsonism, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, all topics that will be explored during this week’s Live Ideas festival. His book Awakenings inspired a play by Harold Pinter and also the Oscar-nominated feature film with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

But Sacks is not the only well-known writer featured in this week’s festival. More than a dozen other prominent writers and thinkers are participating in the festival, including Live Ideas curator and noted non-fiction writer Lawrence “Ren” Weschler.

Below is selected bibliography of writings by festival participants. McNally Jackson books is the official bookseller of the Live Ideas festival and all books below are available on their website.

Oliver Sacks

Lawrence Weschler

Chris Adrian

Susan Barry

Jonathan Cole

Lynne Cox

Orrin Devinsky

Theodore Gray

Lowel Handler

Karen Kohlhass

Wendy Lesser

Colin McGinn

Robbin C. Moran

Walter Murch

Noe Alva

Michael Nyman

Bassam Shakhashri

Ian Waterman

Aniruddh D. Patel


Livestream Schedule for “Live Ideas” Festival

Six events from this week’s Live Ideas festival will be streamed on our website, beginning with the keynote conversation featuring Oliver Sacks and Bill T. Jones on Wednesday, April 17th at 8pm.

All events will be streamed for FREE at

Wednesday April 17, 2013
5:30pm-6:45pm, Theater
Musicophilia & Music Therapy
Featuring: Connie Tomaino, Aniruddh D. Patel, Daniela Schiller, Jeffrey Kittay

8:00pm-9:30pm, Theater
Opening Keynote Conversation: Oliver Sacks  in Conversation with  Bill T. Jones
Featuring: Oliver Sacks, Bill T. Jones, Lawrence Weschler

 Saturday, April 20, 2013
4:00pm-5:10pm , Theater
Re: Awakenings (Dance)
Featuring: Donna Uchizono Company

8:00pm-9:10pm , Studio
Neurologists and Philosophers Consider at 80
Featuring: Orrin Devinsky, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Alva Noë, Aniruddh D. Patel, Lawrence Weschler

Sunday, April 21, 2013
12:00pm-1:15pm, Theater
The Deaf Community
Featuring: Terrylene Sacchetti, Lewis Merkin, Aaron Kubey

8:00pm-9:30pm, Theater
Robert Krulwich of Radiolab Celebrates Oliver Sacks
Featuring: Robert Krulwich, Oliver Sacks

Excerpt from Bill Morrison’s film “Re:Awakenings”

Across the entire 1969-70 period as the young Oliver Sacks worked with the remarkable “human statues” at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, bringing them suddenly back to life through his administrations of the drug L- Dopa—the story he would go on to chronicle a few years later in his masterpiece Awakenings—he was filming developments the entire while.

Recently a box containing seventeen reels of super-8 footage, over six hours worth, resurfaced, and New York Live Arts commissioned Bill Morrison, the master behind Decasia and other such classic quickenings of long lost filmstock, to fashion a brief lyric distillation of the Sacks trove. The resultant short film is called Re:Awakenings and will be screened throughout the Live Ideas festival at New York Live Arts. Morrison will also discuss the film during a discussion with Live Ideas curator on April 19th at 6p in the Studios at New York Live Arts.

Please see a short clip from Re:Awakenings below.

Curator’s Note

New York Live Arts recently resolved to devote at least one week each spring to Live Ideas, a wide-ranging investigation and elaboration—by way of lectures, readings, panels, films, exhibits and performances of all sorts—of the entire spectrum of marvels afforded by the interpenetration of bodies and ideas.

Our inaugural Live Ideas festival happens to be falling during the eightieth year of a veritable giant of precisely this sort of thinking, the eminent and eminently well beloved neurologist, chronicler, and polymathically curious Dr. Oliver Sacks. Born in London in 1933 and trained at Oxford before pursuing internships and residencies in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Sacks arrived in New York in 1967, which has remained his base since then. He practices primarily in poor houses and homes for the longterm differently-abled—places like Beth Abraham in the Bronx, where he encountered the patients whose extraordinary fate he immortalized in his 1973 masterpiece Awakenings. He is prized both for the distinctive individual-patient (as opposed to conventional illness) focus of his practice and for the writerly elegance and brimming humanity with which he has chronicled such fates and struggles in such other classics as The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1985) and most recently, Hallucinations.

With a practice steeped in an insistence on the abiding sovereignty of the individual human spirit, Sacks has been a hero to a whole range of variously afflicted (or as he himself might sometimes characterize them, paradoxically gifted) communities: people with Tourettes, or Parkinsonism, or memory loss, or incipient dementias, or the loss of hearing (or sight, or proprioception) and on and on. But it’s not just that, for in considering “The Worlds of Oliver Sacks,” one also needs to take into account such other quintessentially Sacksian passions as weightlifting, long-distance swimming, ferns, cycads, cephalopods, chemistry, stereoscopy and the like.

Five days hardly seems enough time to begin to encompass the worlds that make up Oliver Sacks, but we are going to do our best, and we thoroughly welcome your joining us!

-Lawrence Weschler

Lawrence Weschler, guest curator of Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks, currently serves as the director of the Institute for the Humanities at New York University. He is a graduate of Cowell College of the University of California at Santa Cruz (1974), and was for over twenty years (1981-2002) a staff writer at The New Yorker, where his work shuttled between political tragedies and cultural comedies. His books of political reportage include The Passion of Poland(1984); A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers(1990); and Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas(1998). His “Passions and Wonders” series includes the acclaimed Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder(1995), which was shortlisted for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has taught, variously, at Princeton, Columbia, UCSC, Bard, Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, and NYU. He held the position of Artistic Director of the Chicago Humanities Festival from 2006 through 2011. He is also a contributing editor toMcSweeney’s and theThreepeeny Review.

Music & Your Brain

Have you ever wondered why that song by Fun. keeps playing in your head? Or why “Smells Like Teen Spirit” takes you right back to those memories of you jumping around in your bedroom? Dr. Oliver Sacks says it’s because, “…music occupies more areas of our brain than language does–humans are a musical species.” Dr. Sacks goes on to explain, “Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further.”

Musicophilia, the New York Times bestseller written by Dr. Oliver Sacks “investigates the power of music to move us, to heal us and to haunt us.” Throughout the book, Dr. Sacks investigates the uncanny experiences of his patients through moments where music seems to go wrong: annoying musical hallucinations haunt one’s every waking moment; and through moments where music seems to go right: music gives language to a patient who has a stroke who otherwise would not be able to speak.

An episode of Radiolab entitled Earworms examines a similar topic: the music in our heads—where the songs come from and why they stay. Dr. Oliver Sacks makes an appearance in this episode of Radiolab to discuss musical hallucinations. Dr. Sacks reports, “The self can be molded by hallucinations, but the hallucinations can be molded by the person as well.” The problem as expressed in the patient in musical hallucinations is reflecting something back about the person’s identity.

Listen to the full podcast here:

(fast forward to 14:56 for Dr. Sacks’ cameo appearance)

Movies like “The Music Never Stopped” have been inspired by the writings of Oliver Sacks. Based on the case study essay “The Last Hippie” in Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars, “The Music Never Stopped” follows the story of Gabriel whose brain surgery leaves him without the ability to make new memories. This causes Gabriel to live in the past, present and future all at once with music as his only method of expression.

Watch the trailer here:

Learn more about music and the brain during Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks. A panel discussion entitled, “Musicophilia & Music Therapy” featuring Joseph LeDoux, Aniruddh D. Patel, Connie Tomaino will feature Sacks’ colleague Connie Tomaino, co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurological Function, and neuroscientists/musicians Aniruddh D. Patel and Joseph LeDoux.

Musicophilia & Music Therapy
Monday, April 17 at 5:30pm
Click here for tickets:

Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks (VIDEO)