Stuart Pimsler, back center, and some of his students at the Beijing Dance Festival in China. Photo provided by Stuart Pimsler.

Local choreographer Stuart Pimsler – known for making works that combine movement, text, music and other media elements – recently wrapped up six days of teaching at the Beijing Dance Festival, where he encountered young artists eager for new ways to use movement to expand their expressive capabilities.

Normally the five-year-old festival is based in the southern city of Guangzhou but due to extreme heat it was relocated further north this year. Three Chinese troupes sponsor the event: Beijing Dance, Guangdong Modern Dance Company and City Contemporary Dance Company from Hong Kong.

“I was delighted with the inquisitiveness and hunger that many of my students had for the interdisciplinary focus of my class,” the co-director of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT) wrote in an email from China. “While some of the students were initially terrified by my inclusion of speaking while they moved, most of them seemed to enjoy the freedom and novelty of connecting their voices to their bodies.”

According to Pimsler, the students (mostly university attendees or dance teachers) were drawn to modern dance technique even though they know relatively little about its history or leading exponents. Much of their education, he observed, is based on taking direction in traditional forms from a master teacher with little room for personal choice. But “given the opportunity, permission and encouragement to move individually, they are eager and capable,” he said. “Their newfound desire for individual expression will hopefully broaden their performance range.”

During the residency Pimsler explained his creative process to the students via translator and shared excerpts from SPDT’s repertory, including “Ways to Be Hold,” a work responding to the lack of protest in the United States during the Iraq War. Mindful that combining artistic and political viewpoints can be interpreted as a dissident act in China, Pimsler said that Chinese dancers do endure scrutiny from the government and may make their creative choices accordingly. “My sense is that any art-making which might be inspired by political concerns is still a long way away from the modern dance scene in China,” he wrote.

Despite this challenge, Pimsler was more often than not inspired by the openness and enthusiasm he found in China’s evolving dance community, and wants to find ways to return. He has met with officials at the United States embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Shanghai to work on plans to bring SPDT with him in the near future.

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