Guest artists bridge the Hill and Northfield

At secluded liberal arts colleges like St. Olaf, it’s not uncommon for students to wonder how their education intersects with the “real world.” This week, fine arts students are exploring that question with a dance company-in-residence that avoids abstraction and grounds its work in social issues.

The Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater Company – founded in New York in 1979, but currently based in Minneapolis – is bringing its community focus to a range of classes this week. All three levels of modern dance, as well as advanced theater students, are studying with the company, both on and off the Hill.

“We’re working in the Northfield community and bringing students to Millstream Commons and Healthfinders,” said Bobby Maher, company manager. “We will be doing workshops with both, and St. Olaf students will be accompanying us to learn more about community art-making.”

This penchant for social engagement has taken the company in unexpected directions: Last year, members did a project with the Hennepin County Medical Center, working with trauma units. This year, the company collaborated with residents of North Minneapolis who were ravaged by May 2011’s tornado.

Another distinguishing feature of the Stuart Pimsler company is its refusal to adhere to just one genre.

“We produce new work that features movement and text,” Maher said. “We start with an idea and figure out the best way to communicate it, whether that’s movement or whether that’s text.” This fluid approach gives the group’s tutelage equal value to dance and theater students.

In the evenings, the dancers are preparing for a showcase of student and company work to be performed Saturday night in Dittmann studio one.

“It was an open audition for students from all majors,” Maher said. The full company will be involved, performing five works. One of them, “Tales from the Book of Longing,” was commissioned by the Guthrie. “The Men from the Boys” will be a solo from Mr. Pimsler himself, although it’s one of the company’s few pieces that was choreographed by an outside artist.

Heather Klopchin, associate professor of dance, is one of the Pimsler company dancers.

“This is my third year with the company,” Klopchin said. She had initially planned on working with the group short-term, but passion and opportunity led her in a different direction. “I took a summer workshop and loved it – and they needed another dancer!”

Klopchin sees their aesthetic and mission as a refreshing change from her own training.

“In my traditional dance background, it really focuses on the body. This work uses text and voice and singing. The voice, body and spirit are all connected, and that’s very different from what I’ve done before. I haven’t spoken or sung onstage since high school,” Klopchin said.

She credits the company as a major personal inspiration, which motivated her to help orchestrate its residency here. “I was so interested in bringing this company here, because I know what they do and how they’ve helped me as an artist and creator.”

Check out the final product of student and company work on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free.