Phoenix Dance

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Epperlein has created one of those rare poignant films that touches the very depths of the soul and dwells within.
—Darla Dixon, Hot Springs
Documentary Film Festival Coordinator

Flying High in “Phoenix Dance”
Jan. 6th, 2006

To many people in the dance world, Homer Avila symbolizes life and renewal. After losing his right leg and hip to a rare form of cancer, chondrosarcoma, Avila continued to dance until his death in 2004. Filmmaker Karina Epperlein captures his spirit and love for dancing in "Phoenix Dance," a 16-minute documentary featuring Avila, choreographer Alonzo King, and dancer Andrea Flores.

We first see Avila sitting on a dark stage. He begins a series of careful deliberate movements, lifting his body and gliding across the stage with such fluidity that it's nearly impossible to tell he's missing a limb. It's a bit of a shock in the next scene, then, to see him in a studio standing on his only leg. The film concentrates more on Avila rehearsing than performing. Epperlein's camera sits in the studio with Avila as he discovers different ways of moving both individually and with Flores. She learns to treat him as she would any other dance partner. By showing the way Avila works alone, with Flores, and with King, the film transcends Avila's story and speaks to the meaning of true artistry.

Though Epperlein includes a short clip of Avila rehearsing before his amputation, she avoids making him the subject of pity. "Phoenix Dance" is not a lamentation or a ploy to evoke sympathy from the audience. Instead, we see Avila continuing to work with his body; the amputation becomes just another stage in his development as a dancer.

In the opening moments of Karina Epperlein's 22-minute documentary Phoenix Dance, the late Homer Avila dances alone on a dark stage. He moves with such fluidity and power that your eyes can be tricked into thinking he is dancing with three legs rather than with just one. The short film—up for Oscar consideration this year—chronicles the making of Alonzo King's Pas, a pas de deux choreographed for Avila and Andrea Flores in 2003, one year after Avila lost his right leg to cancer (see cover story, Jan. 2002). Unsentimental and deeply moving, Phoenix Dance reveals Avila's unwavering strength, as well as his tender and playful nature, in the face of reinventing himself as a "one-legged" artist.

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