UM to Host Dance Performance for Local Schools

February 02, 2015

MISSOULA – Fire science and Native American education for youth merge with the performing arts in the CoMotion Dance Project’s presentation of “Fire Speaks the Land: An Active Audiences Performance.” The performance will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 10-11, at the Montana Theatre in the University of Montana Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center.

Designed for elementary school students and families in Missoula, the 50-minute performance uses original choreography, narration and music to explore fire science, forest ecology and traditional Native perspectives on fire. The beautifully crafted live performance will appeal to all ages and is expected to reach more than 1,500 children and adults in Missoula.

Missoula County Public Schools will bus third- and sixth-grade students to the Montana Theatre to view student-only performances from 9:45 to 10:35 a.m. and 1:30 to 2:20 p.m. Tuesday, and from 1 to 1:50 p.m. Wednesday. There also will be an evening performance for families at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11. Sponsored by the MCPS Title VII Parent Advisory Committee, the evening performance is free and open to the public.  

“Fire Speaks the Land” is a demonstration of the partnership made possible through the newly launched Any Given Child Initiative. MCPS, the Title VII Parent Advisory Committee and the CoMotion Dance Project have partnered to bring dance experiences into the school day.

“This supports the MCPS goal of engaging learners and transforming learning spaces,” said Karen Allen, MCPS executive regional director. “It brings students into the community to learn about Native cultures and art in a performance setting, expanding our students’ horizons and connecting them to learning in a fun and physical way.” 

“Fire Speaks the Land” will feature five dancers, a narrator, unique scenery and lighting, and colorful costumes, as well as several opportunities for the audience to participate in the performance, both on and off stage. Students will explore ecological issues relevant to the region through the combined lenses of fire science and Native American traditional practices.

UM dance Professor Karen Kaufmann, 2014 recipient of the Montana Arts Council’s Artist Innovation Award, directs the CoMotion Dance Project, an organization that promotes dance in K-12 education.

Written and produced by Kaufmann and Steve Kalling, the piece features choreography by Kaufmann and Joy French, with live performances by French and four other professional dancers: Allison Herther, Kaitlin Kinsley, Jordan Dehline and Ashley Griffith. The performance will feature original music composed and recorded by Kalling and nine Montana musicians, and Blackfeet musician and storyteller Jack Gladstone will narrate the sound score.

Following the Missoula performances, the CoMotion Dance Project will perform “Fire Speaks the Land” for 800 Flathead Valley students on Monday, March 2, at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center. Participating Flathead Valley schools include Kalispell Middle School, Olney-Bissell School, Edgerton Elementary, Trego School, Somers Middle School and Glacier Gateway Elementary.

For more information about the performances, visit

The performances and tours are supported in part by UM and the Montana Cultural Trust, Montana Arts Council, Public Value Partnership, Plum Creek Foundation, Cadeau Foundation, Whitefish Performing Arts Center, Flathead National Forest, Northern Rockies Fire Science Network, Any Given Child/MCPS, individual schools and private contributors.

For more information call Kaufmann at 406-243-2870 or email, or call Cathie Chichosz at 406-728-2400 ext. 1064 or email

Contact: Karen Kaufmann, UM professor of dance, 406-243-2870,; Cathie Cichosz, MCPS, 406-728-2400 ext. 1064,