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On the first day of June, a studio in the Northrup King Building filled with sound as a room full of workshop participants unleashed their voices.

It was the first day of the McKnight International Choreographer Residency, a monthlong program that brings an international choreographer to Minnesota to engage with the dance community in a series of events and develop a new work along with a local partner.

The "SoundBody" workshop at the art complex in northeast Minneapolis was conducted by this year's resident choreographer, Meryl Zaytoun Murman, a Lebanese American who's based in Thessaloniki, Greece. At the workshop, she guided a diverse group of dancers in exercises that explored the connection between voice and sound. Murman had the participants undulating, releasing and moving their energy as they explored the connection between different points in their bodies, and between their bodies and the floor.

"It's not like singing words, it's raw sound," the choreographer explained about the work. Her practice draws on training she received in Greece, where sound and movement tap into the subconscious. It's grounded in internal approaches to movement, like the Feldenkrais Method, and the Alexander Technique, to technique styles that connect the mind and body and promote physical awareness. She also incorporates aspects of qigong, an Eastern way of breathing and physical exercises.

"It's really potent medicine," she said.

Murman held a second workshop, also in Minneapolis, called "Embody Palestine," which she co-led with Twin Cities-based choreographer Leila Awadallah.

Then, Murman headed to Winona, to work with another Lebanese American, Sharon Mansur. Mansur first moved to Winona to take a faculty position in dance at Winona State University.

"I was interested in a new adventure," she recalled. "When I came to interview in Winona, the bluffs reminded me a lot of western Massachusetts, and I fell in love with the area."

These days, Mansur runs the Cedar Tree Project, a group that aims to support and amplify artists from Southwest Asia and northern Africa. She and Murman met a few years ago through a panel discussion about Arab American dance. Last year, they teamed up to create a movie with help from Forecast Public Art, a nonprofit organization that supports public art projects through grants. The film employs Murman's work with voice and movement as it explores the two artists' cultural connections.

"We went into the studio, but we also went out to beaches and forests," Murman said. "[Mansur's] uninhibited. She makes interesting, uncanny choices, which I enjoy."

The 10-minute film, called "NeitherHEREnorTHERE," was screened in February as part of the Frozen River Film Festival in Winona, and last week as part of an evening of film and discussion at the Winona Arts Center. Mansur said it offered an opportunity for the two artists to talk about the Arab diaspora, as well as gender and sexuality within that topic.

Dana Kassel, program director of the McKnight Fellowship Program for Dancers and Choreographers, said she and Mansur had been talking about a possible partnership since 2019. "The way we do this is we typically locate the partner first, and we talk about a region of the world that would be interesting," Kassel said.

For Mansur, Kassel said, it was clear a great fit would be to find an international choreographer from the Middle East or Northern Africa. Normally, the program involves a research trip to search for the right artist, but world events got in the way. Eventually, Mansur proposed Murman, who, though she was American, had spent many years abroad — including in Ukraine for an extended period, as well as Greece.

"I feel like [Murman] has an international perspective and reach to her work that still made it unique to bring to the Twin Cities and to Winona," Kassel said.

During Murman's residency, she has been working with Mansur and a group of interdisciplinary artists from the Cedar Tree Project on a new piece centered on the Mississippi River as well as their ongoing conversations around migration, family, world events including the war in Gaza and the ongoing crisis in Lebanon, and about living in Arab-centered bodies.

It's also going to look at the ancient relationship shared between water and women from Southwest Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. "There are ancient rituals that connected the erotic feminine energy with ecological repair," Murman said.

The culminating performance, supported by Theatre du Mississippi, takes place at the Prairie Island Campground, a setting that draws weekend visitors, people who fish, and those who camp throughout the summer. There, the five members of the Cedar Tree Project who have a mix of movement experiences, as well as other practices in poetry and visual art — will work to create a ritualistic performance. The site-specific, outdoor work has been postponed but will happen at a later date that has yet to be determined.

For Mansur, having time and space to gather with the group of women that have come together for the project feels healing and nurturing.

"It's a mix of choreography and improvisation, but like any good improvisation, it has that idea of showing up being present, and letting go of expectations and really seeing and honoring what emerges," she said.

Cedar Tree Project performance

When: Postponed because of flooding in Winona. New dates to be determined.

Where: Prairie Island Campground, 1120 Prairie Island Road, Winona.

Info: Free,