“Dancing is a radical act. Disabled people dancing is a radical act. By presenting my body— our bodies— on stage, we are redefining and broadening our definitions of beauty, art, and the lived human experience.” —Yulia Arakelyan.

We proudly announce that Yulia Arakelyan is MRG Foundation’s 2013 Justice within Reach featured artist and Lilla Jewel Fund for Women Artists award recipient!

A passionate dancer and choreographer, Yulia has been studying, performing, and teaching dance to people of all ages and abilities for more than ten years. Yulia is the co-founder of the Portland-based dance theatre company, Wobbly. She is a longtime supporter of MRG and full of excitement for the opportunity to develop a performance for Justice within Reach 2013, MRG’s annual party on April 20th.

In pieces ranging from deeply emotional to lighthearted and playful, Yulia captures her audiences through a range of styles as well as a creative approach that brings out each performer’s unique abilities and personality. “I give people the chance to really find and express their own personalities and movements. It is really important to me to let each dancer be their own self and not hide anything. Wherever they are today, whatever their body is doing, let that be in the dance.”

Yulia was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in the early 1980s. At age 7, her family left their country as refugees, first to Moscow, and then Seattle. Her artistic career began shortly after high school in 2002 when she began studying acting and developing a love of being onstage. One day, she attended a performance by Light Motion Dance, an integrated dance company (consisting of both disabled and non-disabled dancers).

Watching wheelchair dancer Charlene Curtiss perform, Yulia was captivated. “After the performance, I went up to Charlene and asked if she would teach me to dance. She said yes… From the very first rehearsal, I knew that this was what I was meant to do, this was and is my life’s path.”

Nine months after meeting Charlene, Yulia was onstage in her first performance with Light Motion Dance. After that, she couldn’t get enough. “I took every dance class I could physically get to in Seattle: modern, ballet jazz, improv… I was just hungry to learn. Oftentimes I was the only one in a wheelchair and teachers would straight out tell me, ‘This class is not appropriate for you.’ I would say, ‘I’ll make that decision for myself, thanks’ and just stay in the class.”

Eventually, Yulia attended a year-long course for disabled dancers in London with CandoCo Dance Company to study dance and choreography with teachers from around the world. “All of those unique perspectives have helped shape my choreographic style and aesthetic,” says Yulia.

She returned to the US and completed her studies at the University of Washington, becoming the first wheelchair user to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from this college. She started her own dance company in 2006 with her partner, Erik Ferguson, and has performed her work in festivals in Portland and across the country.

Yulia takes inspiration from the individual dancers she is working with and their bodies. “My main inspiration is who is in the room, who is onstage, and what we can do together.” This collaborative and inclusive approach reflects how her art is tied to disability activism.

“I can’t separate my disability identity from my dance identity. The dancing that I create and what happens on stage is very tied to the way my body is shaped and what I can move and do with my body.”

MRG Foundation is proud to present a dynamic piece choreographed by Yulia at Justice within Reach on April 20, 2013. This performance will be something you won’t want to miss— click here to buy your tickets!

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