At a drawing and movement workshop at the Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis, Mexico City-based choreographer Galia Eibenschutz instructs about a dozen people — many of them professional dancers and improvisers who work in the Twin Cities.
About halfway through the workshop, Eibenschutz, with her slight frame, carries giant scrolls of white paper across the dance floor, explaining that setting up the drawing paper, though it takes a while, is an important part of the process.
It’s a task that requires many hands: unrolling the paper, taping the pieces together, and then flipping the taped-together pieces upside down, to produce a smooth surface. From there, Eibenschutz guides an exercise where each of the dancers lies on the paper, then draws the shape of their body based on their memory of where their body touched the floor.
“You transfer … translate?” she said. “Is that the right word?”
One of the dancers suggests she meant transpose. Eibenschutz explains they should use the black pastel sticks to create what might be inkwells of black color onto the drawing paper, with the heaviest sections of black reserved for the parts of the floor they felt against their body when they were lying down.
The workshop is one of six that Eibenschutz is conducting in the Twin Cities, plus two in Winona, Minn., where she is tasked with sharing her methods of combining drawing and movement in one practice. It’s part of the McKnight International Choreographer Residency, administered by the Cowles Center in partnership with Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon, of the dance duo Hijack.
Eibenschutz also is creating a new piece featuring Hijack as well as other local dancers and improvisers from the Twin Cities contemporary dance scene, set to a live percussive score by NYC-based musician Katelyn Farstad, whose solo band, Itch Princess, opens the evening. The new work, which incorporates Eibenschutz’s interdisciplinary approach, will be performed at the Cedar Cultural Center Oct. 16-17.
Eibenschutz studied ballet as a young girl growing up in Mexico City, but when she became an adolescent, she realized that there were parts of ballet she didn’t like very much. It was so structured, for one thing, and she began to hate the mirrors and the almost translucent leotard she would have to wear.
“I started to hate it, actually,” she said. “All the stiffness, and the beauty, and the stories that told you that you are a princess — those things that are around ballet that told me, ‘Galia, what are you doing here? You love to dance, but why are you suffering?’ ”
In college, Eibenschutz decided to study visual art, something she also had studied and enjoyed growing up. Through visual art, she would volunteer to be in different performance art pieces and began to perform again, though without a dance component.
“Visual arts in Mexico was very male, and very mental,” she said. “They talked about performance and the body, but not dance. I felt shy that I was a dancer so I kind of hid it.”
A Belgian friend whom Eibenschutz met in Mexico City in 2001 encouraged her to study in Amsterdam in an interdisciplinary program that combined dance and visual art. There Eibenschutz began developing her distinctive methods for using dance and drawing together through improvisation, breath and memory.
Van Loon and Wilder met Eibenschutz at her home in Mexico City, at the end of their research trip aimed at finding the right artist to do a residency in Minnesota.
Finding her in the first place was easier said than done. Like Hijack, which is a group that often performs in alternative spaces, Eibenschutz isn’t a mainstream artist.
“We did the stupidest things like googling ‘Dance in Mexico City,’ ” Wilder said. “We were thinking this is terrible to be doing this online because we don’t have a website. No one would ever find us, so why do we think we would find the kind of person who we would be interested in?”
Eventually, they found Eibenschutz in August 2018 through Hijack’s connections to visual artists and underground musicians. They connected on Facebook before meeting in person.
“We had a very brief and wonderful visit,” Van Loon said. She and Wilder had a chance to see Eibenschutz’s studio, which was covered in drawings and paper. “There was what looked like a flow chart made by someone who had completely invented their own language.”
The three talked about Eibenschutz’s process and past work, and about her approach to taking on political topics.
“Of course I have political concerns, but my approach is not direct,” Eibenschutz said. “I don’t like to be so literal. I want to do political things in my way. To rebel, but soft.”
Mary Ellen Childs, who administers the residency program at the Cowles Center, said one of the aims of the initiative is to partner with different dance companies and groups in the Twin Cities to bring in guest artists from non-European countries who can offer something new to the community.
According to Childs, the program, in collaboration with Hijack, decided to choose an artist from Mexico in part because the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico has been in the news.
“It felt like an important statement to make to form this connection with an artist from Mexico,” she said.
They also were keen on finding an artist who could bring new ideas and techniques that would benefit the Twin Cities’ rich independent and experimental dance and improvisation community, of which Hijack is a part.
“Finding Galia, who has this really personal and unique practice that combines movement and drawing, made her an especially good fit for Hijack and for the program,” Childs said.
“This technique that Galia has developed is something that is wanted but not realized here yet,” Wilder said.
In addition to performing in Eibenschutz’s new piece, Hijack also plans to continue the collaboration beyond the scope of the residency.
“We hope to find time to begin a trio that would be more collaborative,” Van Loon said. “At least to begin it, so we have to visit each other again.”
Sheila Regan is a Twin Cities critic and arts journalist.