Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater visited Chosen Valley Care Center and got the residents dancing in their seats. The theater group was in Lanesboro and Chatfield last week as part of a tour residency with the Commonweal Theatre.
Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater visited Chosen Valley Care Center and got the residents dancing in their seats. The theater group was in Lanesboro and Chatfield last week as part of a tour residency with the Commonweal Theatre. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/NEWS LEADER

Bill and Mary at Chosen Valley Care Center got seasonally echoed and engaged.

The dance that followed came from Bill’s piano hands.

“We’ll start with Bill’s piano hands and go from there,” instructed Suzanne Costello, sitting between residents of Chosen Valley Care Center (CVCC) last Thursday, Jan. 25.

CVCC’s activities director, Kate Glor, explained that the movements one resident was making with his hands, as part of a dance class, were because his wife had been a piano teacher.

Costello observed that other residents had added their own movements to the improvised dance that she and fellow members of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theatre (SPDT) led as part of their visit to the center. The visit to the care center was part of the Minneapolis-based theater company’s arts tour residency at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro.

Put together, the movements comprised a seated dance that was accessible and possible for all participants, no matter their age or physical constraints. Costello, the artistic co-director of SPDT, went on to add motions to the dance, inviting those who were able to give a kick here and a big wave there before she began an “echo exercise,” or the use of clapping her hands and snapping her fingers to create a rhythm for the residents to echo back.

“It’s about hearing the sound and repeating it back. Any of you used to be nurses or teachers? It’s hard, because in this, you have to be followers,” Costello said.

The Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT) is an internationally recognized performance company, founded in 1979 by Stuart Pimsler, and co-directed with Costello since 1984. The company’s community inclusive work, which engages a diverse array of populations – students, caregivers, audiences and community members – has been lauded as a “National Model” by The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and its Arts & Healthcare work has been recognized for “Best Practices” by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The class that SPDT performers brought to CVCC was the troupe’s “Life Stories” project, meant to engage senior adults in a care setting in telling their own stories through movement.

“In this movement/story workshop for senior adults and veterans, participants give voice to their life histories. Through group sharing and gentle movement exercises, they find new ways to communicate their life experiences so that they may be heard, honored, and celebrated,” the SPDT website noted.

The troupe’s visit to CVCC was made possible through a grant to the company from Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment funding, and Costello related that it was instrumental in allowing SPDT to travel beyond the larger cities to meet rural senior citizens.

“We’re in Lanesboro for the week, supported by a grant from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment, and it’s because of the Legacy Amendment that we’ve been able to tour places like Fergus Falls, Rochester, Grand Rapids, Lanesboro and Chatfield,” Costello said. “We’re grateful to the arts board. Our company started in New York but moved to Minneapolis in 2000, and we’ve toured extensively throughout Minnesota.”

Costello also noted that the company has been working on community engagement, working with populations that wouldn’t typically be engaged in the arts.

“The other part is that once we have a dance, we produce and present it, but during the week, we’ve been at schools in Lanesboro and here, doing workshops with families,” she said.  “This is a typical week of residency for us, to reach out to populations who don’t get to work with artists very often. We’re going to Virginia for 10 days next to work with nursing students and healthcare providers, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and it’s our intention to get into communities and have relationships with people, find a deeper connection than just doing a show. Everybody has a story, and we try to give everybody an opportunity to tell it, especially senior adults whose stories may have been silenced. We have a lot of empathy for them. We also do work with veterans a lot.”

Costello invited the residents to help her divine what each of the four seasons would look and behave like if they were assigned a gender and characteristics. The residents responded by asserting that spring is a young woman who is light, outgoing, and quite possibly temperamental when it rains. Summer is a slightly older young woman who wears bright clothing and has the face of sunshine. Fall is a tall, sleepy chap who likes to read books. Finally, winter is an old man who wears white but has shadows about him.

SPDT dancers then split the residents into groups in which they developed a dance to represent their assigned season, and once the characters were brought to life through movement, they combined them in succession to become a tour of the seasons, from spring to fall.

As the sounds incorporated for each season were raised to the ceiling, Costello smiled at the liveliness happening before her eyes…piano hands, fishing, raking, cabin fever and all.