How, Now, to Care? a collaborative performance between UI dancers and writers

The International Writing Program and the Department of Dance worked together to create a lively and interactive performance.


Rachel Wagner

University of Iowa graduate student Emmalee Hallinan performs in the act “Apapachio” during the How, Now, To Care? International Writing and Dance Performance in the Visual Arts Building atrium on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. The act is based on the written work of Diana Del Angel.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

Beginning in the Visual Arts Building Atrium, How, Now, to Care? kept the entire audience on their toes while they moved from location to location for each performance of the hour long show.

How, Now, to Care? was a unique collaboration between the International Writing Program and the Department of Dance that questioned the role people have had to themselves, their community, and the planet since the beginning of the pandemic.

Before moving to the freight elevator for the first performance, the International Writing Program’s Director Christopher Merrill welcomed the audience and said that it felt like a miracle to be face to face with people again.

Muthi Nhlema, a fiction writer in the International Writing Program from Malawi, is a writer for one of the six collaborative teams in the performance. He and MFA dance candidate Katie Phelan worked together to create a piece that portrayed a relationship of mutual longing.

Their performance, Whenever She Dreamed, featured a film projection in the background, while Phelan danced a solo in real time. She was also accompanied by a violinist.

“It was important for us to define or continue to question how we move forward after such a weird time where social structures are being questioned in every way,” Phelan said. “We defined that the idea of caring would be a way to move forward, but still questioning how we do that.”

The collaborative teams had less than two weeks to prepare their pieces, which according to Phelan, made it difficult to establish relationships with each other. Phelan said because of the short turnaround, the creators knew they would have to develop the best methodology.

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Nhlema has had his work translated to different media before, but never dance. Prior to the performance, he said he was excited to see what Phelan came up with.

“I’m very libertarian when it comes to transforming one art form into another,” he said. “I don’t try to control the art form, how others choose to translate my work.”

The Department of Dance and the International Writing Program do an annual collaboration, but this is the first year that it was held in the Visual Arts Building. Audience members were able to view the performances from the floor or on the winding hallways.

MFA dance candidate Michael Landez, who performed in f[]r of open spaces, said the event was one of the most artistic projects the Department of Dance has put on.

“It’s kind of enlightening to see that, as artists, we’re all here together where we’re coming back into live performances in these new kinds of ways,” Landez said.

During his performance, Landez and fellow team members weaved their way through the building and audience blindfolded, while loud static noises played throughout.

The evening’s performance concluded with the piece No Justification. No Explanation. No Excuses. No Nothing. Walking to intense runway music, performers strutted down the tiled catwalk as expressions like, “you cannot be stronger than a man” played on the overhead speaker.

Each performer came out wearing masks that said messages, like “dainty” and “delicate,” but their walk back was badass and strong. Finally, the last performer took to the runway, kneeled defiantly, and shaved her head.

In return, the audience broke out into applause and gave a standing ovation. With that, the director thanked everyone for coming and ended the show.