I have to admit it. I’m a big fan of the pieces created by Pam Kuntz, founder and Artistic Director of the professional dance company, Kuntz and Company based in Bellingham, WA. Each theatrical dance piece she creates tells a story that I relate to–that everyone can relate to. Whether the theme of the work is Asperger’s syndrome, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s or their most recent that explores our history through the fabrics—or Threads—of our family, Kuntz’ work lets you see parts of your own life on stage through collaborative movement and modern dance.
Airings…Voices of our Youth, Fall 2016
It All Began When…
Pam Kuntz danced in NY, Boston, and Montana before moving to Bellingham in 1999 to teach at Western Washington University (WWU). By 2005, Kuntz had become a mother. Since she had been choreographing WWU students in dance program concerts as well as in theatre department plays and musicals, she decided to make a personal piece about being a mom. While pregnant with her second child, Kuntz made The Mom Project, sharing the stories of several women with differing experiences of motherhood, including Kuntz’ own journey with in vitro fertilization.
Kuntz enjoyed the process so much that she chose more topics and began to work with professional artists and community members to share their stories through the arts. In addition to her work with WWU students and Kuntz and Company, she was also a founding member of Bellingham Repertory Dance, a professional dance company in the community.
Kuntz’ work has been well-received. Funding has arrived from The National Endowment for the Arts, The Washington State Arts Commission, the City of Bellingham, and others. She was a 2015 Artist Trust Fellow, a 2012 Artist Trust GAP recipient, a 2012 Peace Builder recipient, a 2011 Ken Gass Community Building Award recipient, and a 2015 and 2007 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award recipient. Her choreography has been recognized by the American College Dance Association and her screendances Parkinson’s Dreams about Me, Ellis Won’t be Dancing Today, and Two Dogs, a Cat, and a Baby have been recognized with festival screenings and awards (including best experimental film at the 2012 Oregon Independent Film Festival).
Now a Senior Instructor of Dance in WWU’s Department of Theatre and Dance, where she teaches modern and ballet dance as well as anatomy. Through Kuntz and Company, she specializes in bringing the life experiences of our community to the stage with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the human condition.
Hello My Name is You, about what it feels like to have Asperger’s Syndrome.
Their Fascinating Process to Find Each Piece
From the many ideas and suggestions Kuntz recieves, she chooses a single topic or theme that she believes has universal interest. It may be about family, or Parkinson’s Disease or upcoming—religion. Then Kuntz does her research. Through interviews, reading and discussion, Kuntz explores a subject fully and then works with community members and a wide range of professional artists including photographers, composers, musicians, dancers, actors, and visual artists.
Through her in depth process, like shaping a ball of clay into a full sculpture, Kuntz brings forth the theatrical dance from the core concept with the help of input from the community and the dancers.
For example, Ellis Won’t be Dancing Today was originally created for the Palliative Care Summer Institute Conference in July 2014. The work creatively portrays the experiences of one woman, Marilyn Flint, as she copes with the end of her husband Ellis’ life with Alzheimer’s. Later, the work was developed into an experimental dance film piece by Juliette Machado of JmWorks that is currently on the festival circuit.
For many of her pieces, Kuntz’ husband Mark handles lighting design and tech and acts as a sounding board. Kuntz has hired some WWU students after they’ve graduated as professional dancers for Kuntz and Company pieces. She’s also worked often with WWU Professor of Acting, Jim Lortz. Her dancers are hired on a project basis. Some she’s worked with over many years while others are new.
October 26, 27 & 28, 2017 at The Firehouse Performing Arts Center
I wanted to share a little more about Kuntz and Company’s latest piece as an example of their work. Pam was first contacted in Spring 2017 by Associate Professor Seiko Atsuta Purdue who asked her to develop a piece in response to a Western Gallery exhibit called Coded Threads: Textile and Technology, a collection of works by fourteen visual artists who use new textile technologies in their art. The exhibit is on display through Dec. 8, 2017.
Pam first developed the piece with WWU students to perform in the gallery and then went on to expand it into a larger Kuntz and Company piece. The concept: we can experience the stories in peoples lives through the clothing they wear. Whether its a scarf given to you by your first girlfriend or the shirt you were wearing at your favorite concert, each item holds memories and meaning. Kuntz believes that because are clothing is with us during both important moments and the most mundane, that they are almost alive in an abstract way.
To develop the content of the theatrical dance piece, Kuntz let her dancers provide the inspiration. Each was asked to bring clothing items that held meaning for them. By sharing their true stories, each clothing item inspired more than ten segments of the work. Without giving them all away, I’ll just say that Kuntz’ grandmother’s own Pendleton skirt inspired one segment, with dancers taking you back in time to a playful, joyous high school dance in the 1960’s. Other modern dance segments include a rancher’s pants that transport the audience to an upbeat country line dance. A dancer’s father’s Navy uniform and another’s grandfather’s scarf knitted while he was injured and in a military hospital bed in World War II also made it into this unique piece.
No matter the subject of the piece—whether its about how our children are cared for, death and dying or long-held secrets—you can be assured that you’ll leave a Kuntz and Company theatrical dance performance with a better understanding and a true connection to the pieces of life we share with our community. Be sure to see their one-of-a-kind performances every chance you get.
Kuntz and Company