‘My wheelchair is a part of me’

Anthony LaFond, an artist in Matheny’s Arts Access Program, is celebrating the publication of one of his poems, “God’s Gift to Me” in the winter 2012 issue of Breath & Shadow, a journal of disability culture and literature. The 30-year-old LaFond, who has muscular dystrophy, has been writing since he was 17 years old. While he enjoys writing stories, his real passion is poetry.

God’s Gift to Me

My wheelchair is a part of me.
When he moves, it is like a tank under my control.

My wheelchair has a chair like a portable bed.
His wheels are round like a balloon.
And his motor moves me as fast as a 10-speed bike.

He is shaped like a throne that is sitting on top of the world.

He rides like he is flying me through the air.
The wind blows by like I’m going downhill on a rollercoaster.

Sometimes when I go fast, my eyes start to cry.
I feel what he feels.

He goes where I go, just like a shadow.
He tells me when he is hungry and tired.

Sometimes he reminds me, he has a mind of his own.
He shows me when he needs a change of feet.
His one eye glows at night when I need light.

He carries my bags all day long and never lets go.
He is my defense weapon against anyone who wants to hurt me.

His timing is one of a kind.
When I let go of his messenger, he stops on a dime.
When I need him to zig and zag, he does it with such skill.

He reminds me of who I am, and I am very thankful for that.
He reminds me of what I have and not what I don’t have.

He is God’s gift to me, and when he dies,
I will have to get another.

But each gift God gives me does not make me feel the same way.
They each have their own talent.

My chair’s name is Junior, after my first chair,
And I his father.

He is me
And I him,
And I shall never forget that.

LaFond, above, read “God’s Gift to Me” at Full Circle 2011 Dimensions, the annual celebration of the Arts Access Program. Arts Access enables people with disabilities to create fine art, assisted by professional artist-facilitators. Breath & Shadow is the only online literary journal with a focus on disability. It is written and edited entirely by people with disabilities.

Art’s many ‘dimensions’

Full Circle 2011 Dimensions, the annual celebration of the Matheny’s Arts Access Program, highlighted the many dimensions of the program’s artists. “They may be painters,” noted Eileen Murray, the program’s director. “They may be playwrights; they may be dancers or choreographers. Arts Access gives them the opportunity to sample all that and to find their passion.”

Arts Access enables people with disabilities to create fine art, assisted by professional artist-facilitators. At Full Circle 2011, held Saturday, November 5, 42 pieces of visual art were exhibited during a reception in the gallery. In addition, a stage presentation  showcased dance, drama and poetry. Professional dancers and actors, and some Arts Access staff members, performed with the Arts Access artists.

During the gallery reception, food tasting stations were donated by Ciao, Basking Ridge; cocoLuxe Fine Pastries, Peapack; Due Terre Enoteca, Bernardsville; Gladstone Tavern, Gladstone; 3 West Restaurant, Basking Ridge; and Village Office Supply, Somerset.

Speaking to a packed theater prior to the stage presentation, Steve Proctor, Matheny president, pointed out that Matheny patients often have great difficulty communicating, but, “Arts Access provides them with an opportunity for creative expression.” It reflects, he added, Matheny’s efforts, “to enrich their entire lives, to provide them with a full spectrum of life experiences.”

Pamela Cembrook, a resident of Bernardsville and Matheny trustee, was honorary chair of the event. Artist Dan Fenelon was curator of the visual arts exhibit.

Above, actress Alexandra Hellquist reads “My Pakistani Princess,” written by Mike Cornely, right.

Below, “Group Home” by Ellen Kane.

Can a video game inspire a dance?

It can if you’re Chris Saglimbene. At 25 years old, he’s a 20-year “veteran” of Mortal Kombat, remembering his days at Sports World in Paramus, N.J. “My father would get behind me and stand me up so I could use the arcade machine. So I got an early start in gaming.”

Saglimbene, an adult patient at Matheny, says that exposure helped improve his hand and eye coordination, and he continued to be a video game aficionado throughout his childhood and adolescence. So, when Mortal Kombat 9, the latest version of the game debuted, he decided to create and choreograph a dance inspired by the game.

“I thought it would just be a fun project,” Saglimbene says, “but as more and more of the dance got done, I began to feel it had the potential to make a big splash. As far as I know, I’m the only choreographer who’s done a dance based on a video game.”

Saglimbene worked through Matheny’s Arts Access Program, which enables people with disabilities to create fine art, assisted by professional artist-facilitators. He used specific movements from the game and asked the dancers to emulate them. “Our dancers are not exactly trained in stage combat, but they do it really well,” he says. “When there was something they didn’t get, I took them into the studio and showed them a YouTube video. They soaked things up pretty much like a sponge.” 

The two dancers, both Arts Access staff members, are Corey Bliss and Elizabeth Zelesny. Bliss graduated from the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in 2007 and trained at the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble. She is also on the faculty at the Yvette Studio in Cranford. Zelesny has a BA in dance and journalism from Rider University and has studied at the American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet School and Princeton Ballet School, among others. 

Saglimbene’s dance, called “Reptile Theme,” will be performed at Full Circle 2011: Dimensions, the annual celebration of the Arts Access Program, to be held Saturday, November 5, from 3-6 p.m. at the Robert Schonhorn Arts Center on the Matheny campus.

After Full Circle, Saglimbene plans to make a video of the dance and send it to the creators of the game. “And then,” he adds, “who knows? I hope people walk away from and this say, ‘Wow!’ I want that ‘wow’ factor.”

Admission to Full Circle is $25.  To register, log onto www.matheny.org and click on Full Circle 2011 under What’s New or call (908) 234-0011, ext. 260.

Above, Chris is pictured with Corey Bliss, left, and Elizabeth Zelesny in costume.