Poetic Rebound presents modern dance through storytelling

BY LAURA WILLIS | MARCH 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Two pair of feet seem to move as one. Dancers Nicole Hussain Morford and Jessica Wagoner are synchronized, swaying across the hardwood floor, moving in time with the low hum of piano music filling the studio space. At times, the women move closer, tightly hugging. The union quickly concludes; they alter emotions and push each other away.

Ten minutes later, the music fades. Morford’s and Wagoner’s ghostlike expressions shift into satisfied nods. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the two wait to hear constructive criticism from fellow dancer Meredith Wright.

“There is a stigma that modern dance is weird or interpretive,” Morford said. The free flowing interpretation of modern dance is what Morford hopes to share with communities that are not exposed to professional dance. In 2007, she founded Poetic Rebound, a nonprofit modern-dance group made up of seven individuals. Dancers collaborate to tell stories using different choreography, music, and themes to communities across the Midwest.

Poetic Rebound will continue its outreach mission at 2 p.m. today by hosting a dance workshop in the Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St. Admission is $20.

Senior citizens will write a story that they would like to share with other generations and, with the help of Poetic Rebound dancers, tell those stories through choreographed movements.

At 2 p.m. Friday, the modern-dance group will perform six pieces for the seniors, a tradition that has occurred twice a year since 2009. The performance is free and open to the public.

Senior Center program specialist Michelle Buhman has been working to encourage weekly art events for the seniors. She hopes that workshops such as Poetic Rebound’s storytelling event will help bridge a generational gap between the seniors and performers.

“It’s my hope that people feel free to create their own story, movements, and express themselves in ways they haven’t been able to,” she said.

Senior Center resident Judith Ann Marshall read about the workshop in a program and instantly signed up. She remembers acting in community theater and high-school plays. She was never trained in dance but enjoys creating her own interpretations of movement.

“When I do my dancing, I make it my own,” she said. “I don’t go tap tap here and tap tap there, I just do what I feel to the music.”

Marshall contemplates ways to incorporate aspects from her youth into dance. She has thought about describing her love for piano as a young girl, but the ideas are still evolving. And that’s OK — modern dance has the capability of encompassing, well, everything.

“In modern dance, there is the ability to invent anything you want to,” Morford said. “I felt really comfortable and just jumped into it.”

Like the dances Poetic Rebound creates with residents of the Senior Center, the duet Morford and Wagoner perform, titled “To Set at Stillness the Underside Of,” was based on a personal story. The dance took Morford six months to choreograph. The 26-year-old wanted to illustrate how the relationships in her life changed after witnessing the death of a friend. She knew the basis of the choreography she desired to display but needed to experiment with different movements alongside other dancers.

At the University of Iowa, Morford discovered the unique grace and beauty of modern dance. The technique was not rigid like that of ballet — a dance the she did not feel she met the physical demands for.

While a member of the UI’s touring performance troupe Dancers in Company, she had the opportunity to teach dance through various workshops at elementary schools. The West Dundee, Ill., native liked the concept of using art to reach out to the local community but wanted to take it a step further.

After graduating in 2007, Morford was unsure of where to search for a potential career. She packed her bags and headed to Chicago but was soon uninspired by the city’s heavy jazz-dance scene. She then moved back to Iowa City — where she could see her boyfriend and be a part of a growing arts scene.

“There is a lot of culture here in terms of music and literature,” Morford said. “But not in terms of professional dance.”

To combat the lack of Midwest dance companies she asked a few friends to help create Poetic Rebound.

The following year, Morford joined Creative Classrooms, a two-year intensive program that incorporates art with class curricula across the state. She worked at both Kittrell Elementary in Waterloo and St. Mary’s Catholic school in Manchester, showing fifth-grade students how to intertwine creative writing with modern dance.

“That was a springboard for me to think outside the box,” she said.

The experience helped her to conjure other ideas on how to make modern dance more accessible to the Iowa City community. Poetic Rebound was soon involved in the University of Iowa’s Hospital and Clinics Project Art, Old Brick’s annual Art Walk event, and occasional performances at the Senior Center.

This summer, the company will begin its most packed season. In addition to visiting towns in Iowa, Poetic Rebound will tour larger cities such as Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Chicago. Morford hopes to continue following through with outreach projects, such as possible workshops with the Shelter House and collaboration with the Senior Center.

For Poetic Rebound fans such as Marshall, the freedom of expression in modern dance is what keeps her coming back.

“When I watch them I think, ‘Boy I wish I could do that,’ ” she said. “I don’t have as much talent, but I do pretty good.”

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