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Kids doing more than just performing [UPDATED]

Published 11:59am Wednesday, December 11, 2013 Updated 12:11pm Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater, a company based out of Minneapolis, isn’t just about putting together a final performance. The goals go beyond the closing curtain.

“Our mission is to create performance work… but to then expand the reach of what we would through arts education,” said Suzanne Costello, artistic co-director, director of arts and healthcare and arts and education for SPDT. “It’s what we do.”

Artists are bringing that artistic process to some local elementary schoolers.

SPDT has four artists in town working with about 130 fourth and fifth graders at Cleveland Elementary. The two-week artist residency culminates Friday with a Family Albums performance from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at A Center for the Arts.

SPDT, a nationally-recognized performance company, is celebrating its 35th season. It started in New York City and relocated to Minneapolis in 2000.

With funding from Legacy grants, the company approached the Fergus Falls School District about coming to town to work with students for a couple weeks. Cleveland is one of two schools in Minnesota to have the residency this year.

“We’ve always been involved in education,” Costello said. “It’s a big part of our programming.”

A Legacy Arts Learning Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board fully supports the residency.

“The school doesn’t have to pay a cent, which is kind of amazing,” Costello said.

The artists work with the classes for a couple hours a day. The fourth-graders are working on preparing material to make a film that will be part of the final Family Albums performance, while the fifth-graders will perform their portion of the show live.

Students have explored their family histories, legacies and stories through movement and the artistic process in order to prepare for the final show.

“Part of the residency is investigating to find out more about their history,” Costello said. “It’s autobiographical. It’s historical. It’s not a scripted performance. The performance is created by the students and their stories.”

The kids have the opportunity to not only learn about themselves and their families through the residency, but they also learn about each other.

“It really creates a bond,” Costello said.

The students made albums about themselves including three things they think are special about themselves, where they see themselves in 20 years and compare their baby pictures to what they look like now. Then they use the albums in the performance.

“I can tell you one thing, it’s really fun,” said fourth-grader Dylan Obowa.

Classmate Olivia Daniels agreed.

“We’ve liked that it’s really fun when we get to run around to music,” she said.

The experience at Cleveland has been great, from the students to the teachers, Costello said.

“It’s been an experience for all of us, I think,” said Michael Swenson, fourth-grade teacher. “It’s been interesting with the homework assignments. A lot of them didn’t really know until they went home and asked mom and dad.”


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