Integrative Learning

Harvey Dunn project

Dancing, music, graphic design and poetry aren’t the first words that pop into your mind when you think of Harvey Dunn, one of State’s most famous alums. p10-dunn-dance9V1A6104

But using those media, a group of SDSU educators and students came together in a performance that puts a new twist on the artist’s iconic paintings and has audiences asking for more.

“The Harvey Dunn Collaborative Project” hit the stage at the Performing Arts Center in spring 2013. The production used a combination of dancers, lights, poetry readings, original music scores and animation to bring Dunn’s paintings to life.

The results were inspiring.

The approximately 300 audience members surveyed after the show gave an enthusiastic “two thumbs-up” to the performance:
•    84 percent of respondents said it would be “very likely” or “completely likely” that they would attend another multidimensional performance.
•    Not one respondent said they were “not at all likely” to attend another such performance.

“One of our goals is to challenge the expected forms of art in our region,” said Darla Bielfeldt, an English lecturer and poet for the performances. She co-founded the project along with Melissa Hauschild-Mork, assistant professor and dance coordinator.

“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, we’re going to go see a show about Harvey Dunn,’ and then they experience so much more.” Bielfeldt said. “We hope to share a more complicated way of engaging with Dunn and expand the artistic opportunities for regional audiences and performers.”

The multidimensional performance was the result of an idea that began with the Harvey Dunn exhibit at the South Dakota Art Museum. Lynn Verschoor, director of the museum, said she thought the exhibit needed something to make the paintings relevant for current audiences.

“We pride ourselves on promoting Harvey Dunn and creating new ways for people to engage with his artwork,” Verschoor said.

With that in mind, she asked Bielfeldt to write poetry for the paintings. Bielfeldt complied, writing 12 poems, four of which were used for the first performance. The other eight are planned for future performances.

“The Harvey Dunn Collaborative Project” incorporated students and faculty members to provide a new way for people to experience Dunn’s artwork.

“The Harvey Dunn Collaborative Project” incorporated students and faculty members to provide a new way for people to experience Dunn’s artwork.

Next, Hauschild-Mork and Bielfeldt came up with the idea to put some of these words in motion. In 2007, they created a performance that consisted of only the poetry readings and dancing, but they decided that wouldn’t cut it.

“It just kept nagging at us,” Hauschild-Mork said. “About two years ago we got back together again. We were interested in bringing as many people on board as possible. The component that was really missing was the musical composition.”

They asked Aaron Ragsdale, assistant professor in the music department, to help. He composed and recorded four pieces of music with the help of students. The intent was to capture the tension from the four paintings in the music while keeping in mind the poetry and dancing that would be involved.

Then, Cable Hardin, an assistant professor of visual arts, brought the paintings to life by animating certain aspects of the works, such as clouds and a woman’s dress in the painting “The Prairie is My Garden.” His animations provided a backdrop for the performance.

To top it off, Hauschild-Mork enlisted the talents of dancers ranging in age from 4 years old, to college students, to professionals.

Ashley Fuhrman and Audrey Hennen, both juniors who are minoring in dance, said they appre-ciated the process of collaboration and the opportunity to dance and perform onstage.

Fuhrman, an advertising major from Aberdeen, called the experience, “the most rewarding thing I’ve done so far at SDSU. It was interesting without music—we just had the movement to work with. But when we started the music and the poetry, all the layers, we learned that we had to adjust our movement with the other aspects. It was something I’ve never done before.

“It really helped me appreciate everyone’s unique talents. I learned so much sitting back and watching it all come together,” Fuhrman said.

Hennen, a speech communications major from Ghent, Minnesota, valued the time spent with other dancers and thinks it was a learning experience that will carry over into her everyday life.

“We learned to move and breathe together without using words,” Hennen said. “We had to trust one another and know when to give and take during situations. This interdependence is a skill we can take into all other aspects of our life and into our futures to better the world around us.”

The project’s success has led to an encore. Bielfeldt, Hauschild-Mork and their host of collaborators are at work on a follow-up to 2013’s production. Audience members who raved about the show will be happy to know that a full-scale performance, including 12 pieces of art and poetry, is set for fall 2015.

Shawn Minor

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