UI Dance Department and IWP collaborate to put on inventive performance

Page/Stage brings together the written and performative arts in one production

Adrian Enzastiga, Art's Reporter

It is always a feat to have one’s written work come to life in some way. Playwrights see their work manifest in drama productions. Screenwriters have their scripts picked up for movies or television. But what happens when a piece of writing goes from paper (or computer screen) to dance?

On Oct. 26, the International Writing Program and the University of Iowa Dance Department collaborated to put on the Page/Stage production. The show occurred in Space/Place at 8 p.m.

For the production, IWP residents sent written pieces to UI graduate-level choreography students. The dance students then selected five works to inspire their choreography.

IWP resident Gina Cole of New Zealand was one of the five chosen.

“We all workshopped and discussed my piece of writing, and some of the themes in my writing, and how to reflect that, and how to interpret the piece in dance and music,” she said.

Cole said she is honored to see her work come to life on stage in the form of dance.

“I was given the opportunity to submit a piece of writing for this project to the UI Dance Department, and I submitted an excerpt from the first draft of a science-fiction novel I’m writing, and I’ve been working on that novel in Iowa,” she said.

Each writer was partnered with the choreography students. The writers and the dancers then sat down to meet with undergraduate student Hanna Busse, who composed the soundscape for the dances.

“Hanna composed an amazing soundscape called ‘Spaces.’ It has tech, and cyber, and spacey, and sci-fi sounds, along with beautiful keyboard melodies,” Cole said. “The soundscape also includes some recordings of me reading parts of the text, which Hanna has woven into the composition of the soundscape.”

Cole had not seen the choreography inspired by her novel excerpt until dress rehearsal on Oct. 25. The writers and dancers had slightly more than a week to prepare for the show.

“We all had to work really fast, but it’s been a really exhilarating, creative collaboration, a great experience, and a really creative collaboration among writing, dance, and music,” Cole said. “We worked really well together.”

A large industrial fan was employed in the production, inspired by the working title of her sci-fi novel, Wai Viko, the Fijian word for whirlpool, she said.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “I’ve never done a dance-music collaboration that interprets my texts, so it feels amazing, and it feel amazing to be working with artists in other media, dance and music. It’s just a really new experience for me, and I’m really excited about it, because I’ve never done anything like this before with my writing.”

Jeremy Cline, one of the graduate students in Page/Stage, worked with undergraduate Jessica Madden to create a dance inspired by work from Mongolian poet Bayasgalan Batsuuri.

“She’s got these very striking, beautiful images,” Cline said. “Her poems are a lot about personal loss and recovery of life. We basically made a dance loosely on those themes. Our plan is to also have her poems played while we dance.”

Cline said they don’t exactly act out loss or other themes in the poems. Instead, they find ways to create that concept through distance and missed connections.

“It happens all the time in theater, you translate paper into physical art,” he said. “Choreography is a little bit different because it’s not written. I think the good and the bad thing is it has lots of creative possibilities — it’s super open-ended. It can be overwhelming because you don’t have a lot of structure, but at the same time, you can interpret it how you want, make it how you want.”

Cline said he uses music as a framework for his choreography.

“I think the key is to make my own structure, build some kind of structure to go on,” he said. “Music has its own inherent logic and structure. In this case, we had a few concepts or pathways moving in space; that became our structure that we could then build details on.”

The pressure of time contributed to the piece being unique, Cline said.

“We’re all super-busy so we have like five projects going on at the same time. It’s a different kind of process,” he said. “I think making something really quickly and not thinking about it too much sometimes makes for really interesting work.”

Page/Stage brings together these two different types of artists and allows for a deeper understanding of the text itself.

“How you interpret a piece of writing through movement is something I have never thought about. I’m really thrilled to be collaborating with these talented artists,” Cole said. “I’m excited to see something that I’ve written being translated into dance and music and to have it be performed on stage.”