Storytelling through movement: UI Dance partners with International Writing Program

Five International Writing Program authors were invited to collaborate with the UI Department of Dance to bring their stories to life beyond the page.


Jenna Galligan

Juliet Remmers and Kate Vincek perform “Eternal Somewhere Else” during a dress rehearsal of Words Dance at Space Place Theater on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. The piece is underscored by sounds of Jupiter and Pluto as well as poetry by Manuel Beccerra.

Samantha Murray, Arts Reporter

International Writing Program writers from all over the world had the opportunity to have their pieces showcased through dance on Nov. 1, after a collaboration between the IWP and the UI Department of Dance.  

Held in the Space Place Theater, the showcase, entitled “Words Dance,” kicked off with a prelude based on the poems of IWP resident Manuel Becerra from Mexico, one of the five writers invited to have their work transformed into dance. 

Becerra said he was ready to be apart of the unique collaboration from the start.

Jenna Galligan
Performers Angelica DeLashmette Hurst and Jeremy Cline connect during a dress rehearsal of Words Dance at Space Place Theater on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. The text underlying their piece is by Tautvyda Marcinkevičiūtė of Lithuania.

“I’m really excited,” he said in an interview before the performance. “I like when the two different arts work together. That always fascinated me because you can get really interesting results. The interdisciplinary, I think, is a necessary exercise to give or to break.”

When preparing the dances, Becerra gave the dancers a recording of his poems in Spanish, which was played later in the show. 

“It’s necessary to me for people to hear my poetry in my language,” Becerra said. “It’s necessary to know for my audience to know this language in another existence… I think people will receive the music of it.”

Related: UI Dance Department and IWP collaborate to put on inventive performance 

Juliet Remmers, a graduate student dance student, chose to work with Becerra for the collaboration. 

“His poems feel like dance,” she said. “They have this sort of ephemeral quality and imagery without having a necessarily literal connection. Images can still be connected to other images and still feel related, and I think that’s sort of what dance is about. It’s more of a feeling than a definition.”

When transforming his work, Remmers and her group took phrases they connected with and used them to create improvisational movement. She said the sounds that went along with the movements were another key component that made the creation style so unique. 

“We’ve made a score of some of the NASA missions’ recorded sound from the planets they’ve passed,” she said. 

Another IWP resident, Madara Gruntmane from Latvia, decided to work much closer with the dancers. She even improvised on the piano during the show. 

Jenna Galligan
Dancers Julia Cooper and Mark Ishikawa perform “The Solitaires” during a dress rehearsal of Words Dance at Space Place Theater on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Martha Mukaiwa recorded an original story to be played alongside the dance.

“The dancers are amazing,” she said. “The dancers love my poetry, and we are really connected. That is the most important thing.”

For Gruntmane, creating a connection through writing is the most meaningful part of delivering her work to audiences.

“When I’m publishing my stuff, there’s just one main goal that I want to reach: for readers to find themselves into my poetry to have this dialogue, so they don’t feel alone, and I’m not feeling alone too,” she said. 

The connection she hoped to create between herself, her dancers, and the audience was achieved during the performance that night.

Laila Franklin , another graduate student in the department of dance, was one of the dancers working with Gruntmane. 

“Talking to Madara, she wanted us to dance the emotions or dance the words of what was happening,” she said. “How does the body embody the words that are being said? In the process, we recorded ourselves speaking the parts in the play, and then we improvised a score to work with the words. For me I was picking out sections with action or really strong imagery that I understood where it could go with my body.”

While the performance acts as an important opportunity for writers to see their work in new ways, Franklin said the collaborations are impactful for dancers, too. 

“I think the experience of making a piece for IWP is really incredible,” she said. “I don’t want to say once in a lifetime, but it is a very special format for making it work to be able to collaborate with these world class writers on this intimate level.”