DETROIT, Mich. (February 16, 2017) – Laurie Eisenhower
peered out into the audience at the Detroit Opera House. She’ll never forget what she saw; more than 2,000 people were awaiting a performance by Eisenhower Dance, the company she built from ambitious ensemble to Michigan’s premier contemporary dance organization.
“I remember looking out at all the people and thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long
way,” said Eisenhower. “That was the moment I realized we had succeeded in drawing an audience for this art form in the city.”
Detroit will say farewell to one of its most celebrated dance pioneers this spring, as Laurie Eisenhower, Founder and Artistic Director of Eisenhower Dance, has announced her plans to retire at the end of the company’s 2016-17 season. The announcement comes weeks before the organization’s “Common Ground”
performance on March 4 at the Detroit Opera House.
“Laurie’s contributions to our dance community have been tremendous,” said Michigan Opera Theatre Founder and Artistic Director David DiChiera, who is also retiring at the end of this season. “Among the numerous dance companies that have graced our Detroit Opera House stage, it has been one of our greatest honors to present our very own local dance company: Laurie’s Eisenhower Dance.”
Over the past 26 years, Eisenhower has taken the company from a small ensemble to an internationally touring organization with two dance schools and national accolades. She will hand the reins to Co-Artistic Director and founding member Stephanie Pizzo at the end of the 26th annual season.
“I’m leaving at a time when Eisenhower Dance is expanding its international presence,” said Eisenhower. “I’m confident that Stephanie will uphold our traditions and professional course, generate new ideas and continue to grow the company.”
A Labor of Love
Eisenhower Dance was established amidst growing difficulties within Detroit’s art landscape. Numerous arts organizations struggled to gain footing, and Eisenhower saw many contemporary dance companies come and go. Long term success didn’t seem feasible, but Eisenhower had a dream to establish a dance culture in Detroit.
Eisenhower and her board members, donors, volunteers and dancers worked tirelessly to help realize this dream. In the early days, she wore many hats for the company, handling everything from marketing to costume construction in addition to maintaining her strong artistic voice.
“There have been numerous sacrifices made to keep the company afloat,” said Eisenhower. “But it’s been a labor of love.”
According to many members of the Eisenhower Dance family, Eisenhower’s tireless dedication and work ethic were critical to the organization’s success.
“I was drawn to [Laurie’s] independence, tenacity and strength as a woman,” said Pizzo, founding ensemble member and current Co-Artistic Director. “She filled in all of the gaps, and made the company a force to be reckoned with.”
While Eisenhower set the foundation for her tenacious company, she insists that those supporting her acted as the glue holding everything in place.
“It takes a village to run a dance company,” said Eisenhower. “And it has taken angels to help it grow.”
A Visionary Leader
Several institutions have honored Eisenhower for her contributions to dance and her accolades include the Michigan Dance Association Choreographer’s Festival Award, the Women in Art Award for Choreography, Artserve’s Michigan Governor’s Award for Outstanding Michigan Artist and the prestigious 2012 Kresge Artist Fellowship. The company has received numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Kresge Foundation to name a few. Under her leadership, ED has become a staple of fine art in Detroit.
“Eisenhower Dance has been managed with an artistic vision and intelligent business plan since its inception,” said Darby Wilde, Assistant Professor at the School of Theatre & Dance at Illinois State University. “Laurie Eisenhower is a visionary leader who has created an international dance company with a strong foundation of support.”
Aside from her work with ED, Eisenhower is also known for her contributions to Oakland University as a former Professor of Dance and Dance Program Director. During her time at OU, she was awarded a Travis Professorship and was honored twice by the OU Board of Trustees. She also received an OU Research Fellowship, 25 faculty research grants and the Faculty Recognition Award for her outstanding contributions in the field of dance. In 2012, she was appointed the status of Professor Emerita and, in 2016, was honored with the OU MaTilDa Award for Community Service.
Another Chapter Ahead
As she transitions into retirement, Eisenhower looks forward to pursuing other interests, including spending more time with family and friends in her hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, volunteering for social service non-profits and giving back to her community.
||Stephanie Pizzo (left) and Eisenhower.
“I’ve always enjoyed change, and am now ready for new challenges in life,” said Eisenhower. “I will miss my daily work with Stephanie and the dancers, as well as the wonderful relationships I have enjoyed with Board members and donors, but I plan to return periodically to choreograph and will still be an active Board member. I think change is good for any arts organization, so it doesn’t get complacent. I’m confident Eisenhower Dance will continue to flourish with new energy and ideas.”
While this upcoming season will be Pizzo’s inauguration as Artistic Director, Eisenhower’s legacy will remain, helping shape the direction of the company and inspire its new leader.
“Laurie is a legend,” said Pizzo. “She always stayed strong when there were bumps in the road.”
ED’s success will give Pizzo the chance to focus mainly on artistic direction, allowing her to keep the company current and innovative while maintaining its core vision of growth and artistic development.
“As an Artistic Director, you do so much more than what the audience sees on stage,” said Eisenhower. “It would be easy to let all of that get in the way of creativity. But the art always needs to be the driving force.”
Eisenhower Dance is nearing the end of its 2016-2017 season with two remaining local performances under Eisenhower’s direction: “Common Ground” on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Detroit Opera House
(7 p.m. EDC preshow) and “Power and Passion” on Apr. 8 at 8 p.m. at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts
(7:30 p.m. EDC preshow). Tickets for Common Ground can be purchased at michiganopera.org at $45; tickets for Power and Passion can be purchased at macombcenter.com
at $25. Visit eisenhowerdance.org
for more information.
|Eisenhower Dance performs “Bolero” at the Detroit Opera House in 2015.