Moves Like Madison: An Interview with Band of Artists

By Purnell T. Cropper | March 20, 2013

Sutie Madison ’11, Director of Band of Artists, studied painting throughout college. However, a course with Alan Powell inspired her to focus on another expressive medium—video—and challenged her to think about dance and disability differently.

In her first assignment for the class, Madison, who’s had Tourette’s syndrome since she was eight years old, appears wrapped in chains, overcome by waves of involuntary vocal and physical tics. After seeing the footage, Powell recalls saying, “Take off the chains and let this be your personal language—a language system of movement, of sound.” From there, Madison continued experimenting with video as a way to capture her symptoms, and then she began translating what she saw into dance.

“I take my tics and Tourette’s and use them as a foundation for choreography,” says Madison. “Alan was the one who planted the seed in my head, and then I took that idea and I ran with it.”

Madison used her Senior Thesis project to investigate whether she could make art of her disability—she could—and less than two months after graduation, she was on stage with the Everett Dance Theater in Providence, R.I., performing original sketches and dance routines. The same summer, she founded Band of Artists, which has evolved to include professional dancers, several musicians, neurologists and others with Tourette syndrome.

The company premiered its first show, Tourettes: A Dancing Disorder, on the opening night of Live Arts & Fringe Festival 2012 in Philadelphia, and has performed at Arcadia University. The production was also featured in WHYY’s Friday Arts series.

Upcoming Show

Band of Artists returns to the stage on Friday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Sutherland Auditorium, Penn State Abington. The group will present its unique combination of modern dance, live musical performance, mixed media video art and scientific research.

Interview Highlights

On Founding Band of Artists

“I think that the whole connection of Alan and I… the way that it all just came together, and his brilliant idea of saying, ‘What if you just trained and taught these movements to dancers?’ Because Tourette’s is so kinetic by nature… and he saw this, which I think is brilliant. I wasn’t seeing it like that. So that was the streak of genius and I took that idea and I really ran with it.” – Madison

Tourette’s as a Language System

“Anybody with Tourette’s, the movements are repeatable, they’re going to happen, but the next level of this whole process are narratives: what are the personal stories of a person with a disability and them talking. Actually, Sutie started it from day one with her pieces, talking about her experience having a disability, what it’s like to sort of move through our culture with a disability, and people staring at you. You know, Tourette’s is interesting because our behavior is based on a social norm and Tourette’s is a disruption in our behavior; the tics or the barks disrupt the norm. And so it’s using disruption as a language system in the performance and learning ‘oh no, this is a new norm.’” – Powell

Finding an Audience

“Our audience is not necessarily the art community […] our audience is beyond the art community. But at the same time, the Band of Artists has to be well-trained. That even though our movements are not like a ballet, our dancers have to be strong, they have to be in good shape, they have to be able to move, because ultimately, we’re going to be judged with the same aesthetic judgments that the arts are going to be judged. But I also want Band of Artists not to be locked in to one discipline. I want us to expand: dance, theater, visual arts. But I also realize it’s going to happen slowly.” – Powell

Discovering the Mission

“I don’t know if I have just one objective, you know? Like, I want to show the world that people with Tourette’s do have something valuable to offer. Yes, that’s true, that is one objective, but it’s not the only. There’s several objectives and I think that they keep popping up and we have to figure out which ones to reign in and which ones to sort of toss away. This is all still being born, really.” – Madison