By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
Issues that are important to a community – from food security and endangered species to water conservation and urban revitalization – are especially intriguing to Kimi Eisele. And they are worthy of being explored and communicated through dance, the Tucson artist believes.
“I’m less interested in formal dance performances and more interested in issues we need to look at and determine how dance can help us illuminate them,” said Eisele, who will bring her collaborative thinking, experiences and knowledge in dance performance, writing and teaching to Grand Canyon University the week of Sept. 29-Oct. 3.
Eisele is the fall artist-in-residence in the College of Fine Arts and Production’s Dance Department. She will work with dancers of varying backgrounds in a free master class, and with COFAP dance and theatre students in classes and rehearsals to shape the Ethington Dance Ensemble’s winter dance concerts in December.
The Dance Department has hosted guest residencies each semester since the spring of 2011, said Susannah Keita, dance director. Keita, who danced with Eisele in several modern dance companies and has known her for more than a decade, said her reputation and influence extends across Southern Arizona and beyond.
“Kimi’s work is really welcoming and inclusive, and she’s open to all skill levels and people who have strengths in other artistic mediums,” Keita said. “She knows how to complete a vision, to garner support from the community and to do work that matters, that is relevant and that draws people from outside the artist.”
Making dance accessible to all
The first master class, “You are not Alone: Composing with Others Improvisationally,” is scheduled for 9:40-11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 29, in Saguaro Hall, Studio 104. The workshop will explore the basics of compositional improvisation, primarily through movement and emphasizing the importance of awareness of self and of the whole. The class is open to all GCU staff and students, and no pre-registration is needed.
For the rest of the week, Eisele with work with GCU students on movement, theatre, storytelling and writing in “Doing Duets: Exploring Partnership in Dance, Theater, and Life,” in preparation for a piece in the winter concert.
“We tend to think of a duet as two violinists or two dancers or, in everyday life, it’s a married couple, a person and her dog, you and your co-worker, any pair,” she said. “But I have recently enjoyed working on a project based in ecology and the environment in which I’m asking questions like, ‘How do we duet with a saguaro cactus?’ We interact with them. The question is, ‘How do we create meaningful connections?’”
Eisele’s focus, on composition and collaboration, is based on the Dance Department’s semester theme, “Balance/Opposition.” An informal performance of the students’ work, followed by a Q-and-A with Eisele, is slated for 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, also in Saguaro Hall, and is open to the public. It will be a treat, Keita said.
“To have a preview of what will appear in the concert is just inspiring,” she said. “It’s impressive to see what students can do in a short amount of time, going from concept to actually building the movement and choreography and getting ready to perform.”
Just as Eisele is open to all learners, she also is the kind of teacher who doesn’t force her ideas onto them.
“I’m not coming in with a really strong agenda,” she said. “I have ideas I want to explore, but I look for ideas, stories, movement to come from the dancers and the students. One of my goals is to co-create whatever we shape. That way, they have ownership in the process, and it’s always fresh and interesting.”
Infusing the residency with broad experiences
Last summer, Eisele was awarded a 2014 Lumie Award for Established Artist by the Tucson Pima Arts Council. She also received an Artist Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts two years ago to write a novel on love, loss and adaptation in a post-apocalyptic America, titled, “The Lightest Object in the Universe.”
Eisele was influenced by the work of Liz Lerman, who founded the Maryland-based Dance Exchange, an intergenerational company of artists that stretches the boundaries of traditional dance. For example, its projects have included explorations of coal mining, genetic research, particle physics, ecology and land use.
She has directed several participatory and civic dance projects for Tucson’s New ARTiculations Dance Theatre, where she is creative facilitator and artistic director. One of those projects involved the Community Food Bank.
“We created a series of workshops that brought dance and movement to a conversation about what we eat and where we get our food and how food and dance are connected in the body,” she said.
Eisele, who grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State, got her start in dance at age 7 with ballet, jazz, tap and modern-dance lessons. In high school, her attention turned to sports and she quit dancing for about a decade, then returned to it when she moved to Tucson in the 1990s.
Eisele has a master’s degree in geography from the University of Arizona, where she founded “you are here: the journal of creative geography,” an annual publication that explores the concept of place from a variety of art forms.
She has taught dance, storytelling and journaling to a variety of students, from kindergartners to teenagers. She is looking forward to meeting GCU’s arts students.
“I love the eagerness of students who are already studying dance because they have a wonderful openness to learning new things,” Eisele said. “But it’s also very exciting to work with everyday people who don’t have any dance training.”
Contact Janie Magruder at 602-639-8018 or [email protected].