Dance Troupe Provides Artful Lessons at Wright

The dance troupe Pilobulus worked with students at Wright Elementary School.

The dance troupe Pilobolus worked with students at Wright Elementary School.

Yesterday students at Wright Elementary School hopped buses to the Civic Center for a special matinee performance of Rules at Play. It’s part of the Applause Series, an educational branch of Des Moines Performing Arts. The show was an entertaining instruction delivered in the medium of dance by the renowned Pilobolus troupe.

Pilobolus sounds like a name from Greek mythology but nothing could be further from its actual origin.

Pilobolus is a fungus that lives to decompose cow dung. It thrives in light and reproduces by propelling its spores far from the dung into the grass where cows eat them and, well, you get the idea. It’s a circle of life thing.

Pilobolus the dance company isn’t so different, really.

The dancers trace back to a group of students at Dartmouth College in the 1970s, one of whom was studying the fungus in a biology lab at the time. They saw a parallel between what they sought to do and what the fungi are all about; seeking light, propulsion away from, you know, smelly stuff.

But enough of that. What the Wright students know about Pilobolus is they put on a great show. And Wednesday members of the company visited them at school for some up close and personal follow up.

Wright is a designated Artful Learning school.

Artful Learning is a school reform model based on the belief that the arts are a fundamental way to instill love of learning in children. The model: experience, inquire, create, reflect, starts with a Masterwork experience. Students learn about a painting, photograph, song, or other art piece. The Significant Question guides the inquiry and students use a variety of research techniques to explore the content. Ultimately, students design and complete an Original Creation – a tangible, artistic manifestation that demonstrates their understanding of new knowledge. This final product is then presented. Finally, students reflect on their learning and connect it to their lives and the world around them.

The kindergarten classes at Wright are involved in an AL unit on the concept of Dependence. The masterwork for it is the Pilobolus production called Shadowland.  Fourth grade’s current unit is Interdependence. Their current masterwork is Stomp, another dance creation which ties in seamlessly to Pilobolus.

Derion Loman and Ben Coalter took over the Wright music room Wednesday morning for a workshop with 4th graders. The class came pre-stretched from PE and quickly got the hang of a series of exercises in movement and teamwork. They reached for the sky like birds and giraffes. They “swam” on the floor like fish and wriggled across it in interconnected groups of four like, in one case, a caterpillar doing a backstroke.

Then it was across the hall to Lindsay Schryver’s kindergarten room where they were EAGERLY awaited!

“We loved your performance yesterday!” one excited little girl blurted out as soon as Loman and Coalter entered the room. Schryver presented them with a homemade book entitled Dependence that each of her students contributed a page to. How did Pilobolus represent the concept of dependence?

“They make flowers out of their bodies,” was how a girl named Rhya saw it.

But that’s not all they can do with their bodies. Schryver pushed tables aside to give them room. Next thing the kids knew the two teammates had clasped each other’s ankles and were rolling across the room in what could have passed for a reenactment of the invention of the wheel by a couple of cave dwellers horsing around one day eons ago. Much to the delight of the rapt kindergartners.

“We don’t always get to do the Rules at Play show on tour,” said Coalter. “Or do school visits like this. When we do it’s fun. It’s kind of a license for us to be childish again.”

Yesterday Pilobolus played to a packed house of 2,000+ at the Civic Center. But the ovations there couldn’t have been any more gratifying than the intimate ones they got for an encore performance in a kindergarten classroom the next day.

Video of Pilobolus’s Visit to Wright

Photos of Pilobolus’s Visit to Wright

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