The Artist as Citizen: Dance and Theater in the Community, Carleton College

To launch their residency at Carleton during this winter quarter, the directors of the Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater Company (SPDT) gave an opening talk in the Weitz Center, the new arts and creativity center on campus.  Stuart Pimsler and Suzanne Costello’s talk “The Artist as Citizen” was well attended with over fifty Carleton students and faculty, and several community partners from Northfield.  People came to hear about Stuart and Suzanne’s experiences helping a wide range of communities – such as stroke survivors, caregivers in hospitals and hospice programs, and elementary school students – experience a new form of dance and movement. (see more about the event here)

Stuart emphasized that unlike a traditional dance experience, which is focused on the final performance, his community projects are focused on process and collaboration.  Suzanne elaborated on how and why an artistic or creative experience has the power to transform people who don’t typically think of themselves as dancers.  They called upon all of us to think about our bodies and our role supporting and participating in the arts and community engagement.

While dancing can often be thought of as a difficult skill that requires lots of training, over their many years and collaborations Stuart and Suzanne have found that dance can be surprisingly relatable to many newcomers.  In their talk, they shared many lessons that they have learned along the way.  For example, after dancing and creating with caregivers in hospitals, Suzanne has found that caregivers and dancers have a lot in common. They are both underappreciated, female dominated professions that are focused on the body. Stuart and Suzanne have found that younger boys, whose fidgeting and bouncing are too often seen as problematic by their teachers, make phenomenal dancers. When the social process of preparing a dance harnesses these individual tendencies, the performers can undergo tremendous change. Children learn more naturally through movement. The group of stroke survivors expressed moments of their experience that they could not articulate before, and many of them made some physical recoveries as a result of the artistic process.

Stuart and Suzanne will continue to share their experiences and knowledge with Carleton students and community partners over the next ten weeks.  Stuart is offering a class this quarter entitled “Performing Politics” which will partner with three community partners including a local school district, a local free clinic and a senior citizen assisted living facility.  Students in the class will observe the Community Workshops by the SPDT Company while creating their own pieces.  Their residency provides a chance for all of us to learn more about the arts and community engagement. Learn more about an upcoming performance at Carleton.

By: Henry Neuwirth

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