Eyes Closed Eyes Open to bring International Writing Program and Department of Dance together

The International Writing Program and Department of Dance collaborated to present visual interpretations of written works and look into the future with their Eyes Closed Eyes Open multidisciplinary event, which premieres on Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m.


Grace Smith

Photo of Graduate student; Juliet Remmers in “Dream Memory of the Future”, a film project directed by Associate Professor; Jennifer Kayle and co-created with graduate students in dance; Emmalee Hallinan, Mariko Ishikawa, Michael Landez and Juliet Remmers. This film features poetry by Wana Udobang. Contributed.

Abby McCusker, Arts Reporter

The International Writing Program and the University of Iowa Department of Dance collaborate annually on a visual presentation and this year is no exception. The Eyes Closed Eyes Open event is a performance where graduate students from the Department of Dance and other collaborators, such as graduate students from the School of Music, take pieces written by current or former members of the IWP and turn them into visual presentations for an audience.

The performance is a part of the Art and the Pursuit of Social Justice series sponsored by Iowa Arts. IWP Director Christopher Merrill explained that the prompt for this collaboration, “when I close my eyes, I see the future / when I see the future, I close my eyes,” is designed for collaborators to think about past events and how they will shape the future.

“For us, we’re trying to look forward, recognizing that the Black Lives Matter Movement is very much an American phenomenon, but there are different ways of thinking about these issues of inclusivity in every country around the world,” Merrill said.

Kayle and Merrill explained how writers and choreographers benefit in different ways from these types of collaborations within the arts programs at UI. Merrill said the choreographers look behind the words that writers work so hard to craft, which forces writers to think differently about their works. Choreographers are tasked with taking written words and expressing a visual message to an audience.

IWP alum and participating writer in the event, Haifa Abu Al-Nadi, said the collaboration broadened the way that she considered events in our world.

“This collaboration made me take a more expansive way of thinking and a broad view of the current situation. It made me realize that no matter how vast the world is and how different its dwellers are, we share more than we think we do,” Abu Al-Nadi said.

Kayle explained that collaboration can expand skills and allows for new ideas to flourish.

“I’m a big fan of collaboration as a form of expanding your range. No matter what kind of artist you are, there’s something powerful and magical that happens in a collaborative relationship that allows each artist to grow,” Kayle said.

Merrill said the collaboration provides a space for creative minds to meet and ultimately sparks new ideas in the minds of those who participate.

“We try to cultivate a creative space in which people are free to try new things with the hope that it will spark new ideas and ideally new works for them down the road,” Merrill said. “My experience working with choreographers has always been so much because they think much differently than I do and express themselves in different ways than I do and in that interchange, things happen.”

Related: UI arts departments to present social justice virtual series 

Audience members can tune into the event through a live webinar that will air on Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom or YouTube. They will be able to view six different works and engage in conversation about the themes the performances present. The performances will be available for anyone who wants to view them on Feb. 25. Jennifer Kayle, co-director of the MFA program in the Department of Dance, said that the level of access is a major benefit to a virtual performance.

“I think the No. 1 benefit is access,” Kayle said. “People don’t need to be in Iowa City, they don’t need to commute. People across the world — if they want they can log in and share this with us and the same for the performers, their communities can show up to this with them and for them.”

Laila Franklin, a graduate dance student from the Washington, D.C., area, echoes Kayle’s thoughts on a virtual performance because her family and friends from back home will get to see her work.

“The virtual performance platform is a really exciting opportunity to show work and share communal spaces with bigger audiences,” Franklin said. “For me, that means that my family can watch me perform. It’s also really cool to be able to watch performances from home, there’s something exciting about that.”