Now serving a life sentence for his repeated sexual abuse of at least 330 underage girls since the 1990s (in addition to his guilty pleas to charges of child pornography and tampering with evidence), former osteopathic physician and eighteen-year doctor to the US women’s national gymnastics team Larry Nassar, whose victims include numerous Olympic gymnasts, maintained his professional position and continued to perpetrate his crimes until the news broke in 2016, after a decades-long cover-up by USA Gymnastics and the other organizations he worked with, and a year by the FBI.
Originally workshopped in New Ohio’s Ice Factory 2022, Body Through Which the Dream Flows, an intersection of dance, theater, and gymnastics, video, light, and sound, is now making its world premiere at The Tank. Written and choreographed by Soomi Kim, who co-directs with Meghan Finn (The Tank’s Artistic Director), with Alexandra Beller serving as choreography consultant, the experimental cross-disciplinary piece was inspired by Kim’s personal experiences as a veteran gymnastics coach in the time of, and before, the emergence of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #CancelCulture. Featuring performances of movement generated by a young ensemble of six competitive gymnasts ages nine to sixteen, the work navigates through the recent history of abusive coaching, the aftermath of the Nassar scandal, and the resulting deconstruction of the sport’s governing body.
Presented in the format of three parts comprised of short segments, the piece uses live action, voice-overs (sound design by Zëk Stewart), video backdrops (designed by David Pym), and an emotive soundscape (original music by Adam Rogers and Michael Cassedy) and lighting (by Natasha Rotondaro) to trace the growing concern over the treatment of budding gymnasts in their grueling quest from childhood to achieve the dream of Olympic status and medal contention. The mostly bare stage is furnished, audience left, with just a table, chair, and mic, where Kim gives her testimony to an unseen interrogator (voiced by Finn) and reflects on her journey through re-enacted go-back memories of her life as a child athlete-in-training (played by the remarkable nine-year-old Ai Clancy) and subsequently as a coach.
Kim’s script combines details from her own personal autobiography, documented facts, and biographical material from the affected gymnasts with dramatized dialogue, enhanced by an increasingly intense artistic design. The videos contain clips of the most renowned figures in Olympic gymnastics, from Nadia Comăneci and Mary Lou Retton in the 1970s, to the later whistleblowers Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and Gabby Douglas, along with coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi, accused of physical and emotional abuse of the girls, and knowingly turning a blind eye to Nassar’s sexual abuse of them.
The cast of highly skilled young gymnasts – Nora Avci, Olivia Caraballoso, Madison Rodriguez, Amaya Cofre, and Shayna Wilson, along with Clancy – turn in extraordinarily graceful and limber athletic routines and profoundly moving performances of interpretive dance that express the toll taken on them by the demands of the sport and the expectations of the brutal trainers. Their movements are supported by changes in the mood of the music, lights, and flashing videos, and in the costumes (by Kim and Meghan and Evelyn Finn) that are especially significant in the final scene of what their lives could be, without the exhaustive demands of training and competition, the cruel mistreatment by the adults entrusted with their coaching, and the regret they might feel should they choose to leave.
Soomi Kim and her cast and team provide a heartbreaking wake-up call to let girls enjoy their childhood, free from the inconceivable pressures and abuse of going for the gold, as exposed in this compelling work. The performances are astonishing and the message about a more humane way for them to be achieved and a more compassionate and encouraging way for vulnerable young gymnasts to be treated is momentous, affecting, and beautifully delivered.
Running Time: Approximately 55 minutes, without intermission.
Body Through Which the Dream Flows plays through Sunday, October 16, 2022, at The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $25-50, plus fees), go online. Everyone is required to show proof of full COVID vaccination before entering the space and will also be required to wear medical grade masks while indoors at all times.