Pain has a way of putting things into perspective. But in the case of dancer and choreographer Rebekah Hampton Barger, chronic pain also inspires her art.
As founder and artistic director of FALL, Nashville’s first aerial and contemporary dance company, Barger is well known for her gravity-defying work, which “blends classical and contemporary dance with aerial fabric and invented structures.” In 2017, she presented Self-mastery – a piece commissioned by OZ Arts which examined Barger’s personal experience with severe scoliosis and chronic pain. This weekend, she continues this journey with Self-mastery 2.0 — a new iteration of the original work that she hopes will help improve communication between chronic pain patients and their healthcare providers.
“Performing at OZ was one of the most artistically satisfying experiences of my career,” says Barger, who founded FALL in 2010. “But even then, I think I knew it wasn’t fact – it was something I would like to see again at some point. It’s like a living autobiography – 2017 was chapter 1, and this is chapter 2.”
This second chapter actually began in 2020, when Barger – who was diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis at the age of 13 – suffered a series of personal and physical setbacks that forced her to reassess her health. .
“My health kind of shut down in such a way that I couldn’t pretend that everything was okay anymore,” Barger says. “I had to recognize, once and for all, that I have legitimate physical issues that I need to pay attention to and take care of.”
This experience led Barger to tap into online scoliosis and chronic pain communities, where she found that many patients struggled to communicate effectively with doctors and other healthcare professionals.
“For those struggling with a chronic illness, there is often a disconnect – a feeling that you are not heard or believed. And as I began to reengage with my own health, I kept thinking about Self-masterywondering if it could be used to bridge that gap.
Barger set out to rework the piece, secure funding from Metro Arts, and partner with Vanderbilt’s Osher Center for Integrative Health, with the goal of introducing the new piece to its medical staff as well as the general public. . She gathered feedback from other chronic pain patients through interviews and online forums. And she’s also incorporated the work of other artists, including photographer Martin O’Connor, composers Timbre Cierpke and Dan Wright, and writer/performance artist Audra Almond-Harvey – all of whom have faced their own issues. chronic health.
“As I started resetting the room, I realized my feelings had changed over the past five years,” Barger says. “Rather than feeling betrayal or resentment towards my body, I had a real sense of gratitude and even admiration, as I considered all that I have been able to accomplish in my career and in my life. actually happened with all of the contributing artists. The journey has not always been easy, but it was important for us to honor the resilience of these bodies that allow us to continue making our art.
“We have to keep fighting,” she adds. “You have to keep moving forward. But it’s so exciting for me that this performance can help build empathy and understanding – it’s what keeps me going.