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Observations on the Run (Paleontology of a Woman)

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I usually like to write a story before a show, not on the day of its closing. But that’s not how this one worked out. Yes, we do close tonight but you still have two more chances to see the performance—at 5:00 or 7:30 tonight at Next Act Theatre—and of course, I recommend it. But call first for tickets because the houses have been full.

There are a few ways to approach writing about this concert—one way (new and fun for me) is the focus on fashion. Paleontology of a Woman was first a fashion event by designer and Project Runway contestant, Timothy Westbrook. It’s set to music as rich as Timothy’s textures by composer Allen Russell and the Tontine Ensemble. It was Allen who connected Timothy and Dani (Kuepper, Artistic Director, DCP) to turn the fashion event into a dance experience.

Danceworks Performance Company

(L to R Andrew Zanoni, Kim Johnson, Alberto Cambra, Christal Wagner, Liz Zastro Gina Laurenzi, Melissa Anderson)

Then there is the theme itself that Dani ran with. She said, “Working on Paleontology of a Woman caused me to think more deeply about ideas on women, men, identity, perception, projection, stereotypes…” Her artistic approach and focus gives as much distinctive texture to the concert as the designs and music.

Dani Kuepper with Allen Russell and the Tontine Ensemble

Dani Kuepper with Allen Russell and the Tontine Ensemble

But it was the process behind it all that moved me most—how to sustain. Be sustaining. Timothy is a sustainability driven fiber artist—he weaves strips of plastic grocery bags with cotton, would never think of throwing out a flat bicycle inner tube and works during the day so he doesn’t waste energy on lights.


I was standing in the lobby at Next Act Theatre last night and met Timothy’s parents, Susan and Chris Westbrook, who had driven 16 hours from upstate New York to see the show. (Is there anything better than having parents that travel far and wide to support you?)

The black dress Susan Westbrook was wearing became the first topic of conversation. “Tim made this dress for me,” she said as I was admiring it.


Susan Westbrook at Next Act Theatre

I told her that days before I’d watched Timothy backstage working on his treadle sewing machine (foot pedals, no electricity) and had asked him how he got started sewing and designing.

“When I was five,” he said, “I saw my Grandma jabbing at something with a sharp spoke, I thought maybe she’d broken her fork, and I asked her what she was doing. I’m sewing, she told me. It fascinated me! I wanted to understand it and didn’t stop until I did. I was just that way. Like when I was taught how to tie my shoes, I practiced all day long until I could do it.”

Timothy and his sewing machine

Timothy and his sewing machine

I was happy to have the chance to meet Timothy’s parents because he had talked a lot about them and how special they are. He told me, “My mom advocated for my sister and me who are both gay. We lived in a small town in the northern foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. That wasn’t easy to do. She always supported my passion for design and encouraged me.

“One of my dad’s famous quotes is, I am always proud of you, but not always sure what I am proud of. He is a beacon of strength in the background; he’s like the wind in our sails while mom has her hand on the back of the boat helping to propel us forward—the ever watchful father, and the mother, uttering, Come on, come on!

I was truly amazed when Susan told me, “Tim gave me this dress for Christmas in 2003. This side panel is made out of unraveled cassette tapes. Tim’s grandfather was legally blind so he would listen to books on tape. Tim wove all those old tapes on a four shaft loom with organic cotton. He took what was audio and made it visual.


Dress and purse designed and constructed by Timothy for his mom

“He wove the fabric on the sides of this dress to match this pocketbook he had made for me years before. The fringe on the purse is from one of my macramé plant holders which were all over the house when he was growing up.”

“What’s the story behind these?” I asked noticing the different panels and fabrics on the flared skirt.

“I really don’t know. They could be from old curtains. He lined this dress for me so it would be easier to wear.” She let me continue examining the beauty of the variety of panels as she went on talking. “When Tim showed us the costumes from the show this afternoon, he said, I used Auntie Jo’s wedding dress! I even recognized my grandma’s embroidered table cloth on one.”

Christal Wagnor, Liz Zastrow, Gina Laurenzi, Andrew Zanoni

Christal, Liz, Gina, Andrew

“He’s brilliant!” I said.

“I know. He had the woods around him growing up. He was surrounded by nature and always loved it, has always cared for it.”


So I went home last night thinking about that conversation and had to write it down. You can see that Timothy shows us through his work how fulfillment can come by accomplishing more with less. That cutting back can mean more creativity, less tension, more peace, less stress, more joy.

Alberto Cambra

Alberto Cambra

He showed me that when it’s all said and done, sustainability really does mean sustenance.

Thank you, Timothy, for an exquisite show. And thank you Susan and Chris Westbrook, for a truly amazing son.  –Deb Farris

Performance photo credits: Paul Ruffolo

For tickets, call Next Act Theatre Box Office 414.278.0765!


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Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.