Southwestern Michigan College hosts HOLDING SPACE art exhibit

DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College recently hosted Hannah Fischer, artistic director of Fischer Dance, for a series of related events — an exhibition in the Art Gallery, a workshop with students and lecture to the campus community.

For January, the Art Gallery transforms into an immersive video installation, screening their nine-part dance film series, HOLDING SPACE. Multiple projections (of all nine films) screen in on-going loops across the galleries, creating the sensation of the dances moving and transforming, seeking to invite viewers to explore the physical space and develop new relationships between the works. 

HOLDING SPACE features more than 30 community performers alongside the dance company. The art seeks to be a cohesive body of work that can capture complexities, textures and relationships in less than five minutes each. Another aim is re-envisioning space in South Bend. 

“This work was originally screened as everyone sat and watched, but I envisioned it in a place you could walk through and be immersed. It’s extraordinarily nostalgic to be here,” Fischer said, “because I made this work my last year in South Bend. In many ways, it’s a love letter honoring spaces you may recognize. This piece is about the texture of space, so to see it installed instead of screened says something new.”

Fischer said the atmosphere of the film is an important part of the artwork.

“You’ll notice there’s no direct sunlight in any of these works, which are very much based in this region,” Fischer said. “Sometimes we think of the landscape as dreary and drab, but I see endless space to create.”

The series was created in collaboration with Alyssa Neece of Corlanthum, director of photography, and Patrick Quigley of Sailbear, composer. Quigley, Southwestern Michigan College alumnus, discussed his process of collaboration with Fischer Dance during the reception in the gallery. While at SMC, he took courses towards a STEM track, eventually transferring to University of Michigan to study engineering.

Following an informal reception and discussion on the film series in the gallery, Fischer spoke in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building, discussing entrepreneurship, artistic possibility in the Midwestern landscape, striking out on new ventures and her vision for the Michiana Area.

At their genesis, they were the only modern dance company based in South Bend. With Hannah Fischer relocating to Salt Lake City this past August to pursue her master’s degree in dance, her South Bend-based company transitioned to New Industry Dance, steered by former members Chloe Ilene (Artistic Director), Joanna Whitmyer and others.

“I worked hard and made a lot of strategic choices along the way,” Fischer said. “Small steps moving in the direction of things that interest and excite me and staying committed to that vision made Fischer Dance possible. Five years ago, I wasn’t trying to go to grad school, I just wanted to make dances in South Bend, where I lived.”

She designed her major at St. Mary’s College, collaborating with Quigley on her 2011 senior project, then spent three years in St. Louis as Leverage Dance Theater assistant director and production coordinator.

“I got to St. Louis just as the budget got cut 40 percent overnight,” she said. “We built a partnership with a church across the street that cut costs, but [this] created interesting choreography problems.”

Including, navigating floor-level pews or performers elevated in the monks’ loft above audiences.

“It was a different way of looking at space that resulted from an economic crunch,” she said.

Returning to South Bend from 2014-2018, she explored strategic partnerships including House of Luthiery’s Tom and Becca Nania balancing art and science to craft guitars.

“People seek access to process,” Fischer found. “Can we see dancers in rehearsal? Or how someone throws a pot?” Analyzing audiences’ interests “really changed the game for Fischer Dance and the Birdsell Project,” she said of Myles Robertson and Nalani Stolz in 2014 co-founding the repurposing of a decaying 19th-century mansion to artistically interpret the abandoned space.

“Dance in South Bend is about seeing a warehouse not as dirty and dusty, but as a place where eclectic mixes of people can open doors to new conversations,” she said. “Live performance is real people encountering real challenges in real time. Something about the risk involved in real time is important to me.”

Complementing her lecture and exhibition, Fischer joined her colleague Jeff Wallace to lead a movement-based workshop for a group of TRIO students during a casual brunch. Designed in coordination with Director of Student Support Services Angie Palsak, the workshop exposed students, staff and faculty to key elements of choreography, improvisation and strategies for engagement.

The nine-film installation remains on view in the Art Gallery, room 108 of the Dale A. Lyons building, through Jan. 31. Viewing is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Thursday.

Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter community college founded in 1964.

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