By Megan Carroll, Gonzaga University ’18
An outstanding performer and leader, Elaina Pignolet will graduate from Gonzaga University this spring with a Bachelor’s degree in art, minors in dance, interdisciplinary arts and French, and invaluable hands-on research experience in the arts.
Pignolet has been involved for the better part of the past year in a research project centered on the enduring impact of American interdisciplinary artist Loïe Fuller on dance, visual arts and science. The research was funded by a grant from Gonzaga’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak, Ph.D., the University’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says research is a priority at Gonzaga.
“Undergraduate research is alive and well at Gonzaga, particularly in the sciences. Collaborating with a faculty mentor is proven to benefit students from diverse backgrounds and contributes to their success,” said Mermann-Jozwiak. “Elaina’s work with Professor Suzanne Ostersmith is a model for how research works in the arts and humanities. Stimulating research in those other areas is one of the major goals the College is currently pursuing.”
Before her death in 1928, Fuller created one-woman shows combining dance and revolutionary theatre lighting using enormous flowing silks. The 1900 Paris World’s Fair featured her own well-attended stage. A stagecraft innovator, Fuller painted her silks using luminescent salts that created an effect similar to that of the glow-in-the-dark metallic element radium.
Suzanne Ostersmith, assistant professor and director of the dance program, began meeting regularly with Pignolet last summer, and the two traveled to the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington, to interview curators and historians with extensive knowledge of Loïe Fuller ephemera. They viewed Fuller’s uncatalogued, donated letters and photos, and a cover from the 19th century French publication Le Journal that displayed Fuller’s different dresses and dances.
Pignolet seized the research opportunity after being approached by Ostersmith.
“I thought that this research was made for me with the art history, dance and performing,” said Pignolet. “It seemed too perfect, and it was exactly up my alley. I knew I needed to do it.”
Guest artist Jessica Coxe visited Gonzaga last fall and reconstructed “Lily,” Fuller’s famous dance with silks, with two students after a night of auditions. Now, Pignolet is leading rehearsals and critiquing dancers prior to the presentation in the Spring Dance Concert from April 27th to 29th.
In a breathtaking visual display, the dancers will perform wearing a white garment made of 70 yards of silk.
Part of Pignolet’s research involved creating – with help from Jundt Director and Curator Paul Manoguerra – the Loïe Fuller exhibition now on display in Gonzaga’s Jundt Art Museum. The exhibition includes bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Theodore Rivière; an acrylic work on canvas by Ostersmith titled “A La Loïe”; and Pignolet’s monoprint, “Seventy Yards of Color.”
Pignolet’s print will also appear on Spring Dance Concert advertisements and T-shirts. She created it in her printmaking class last fall in an effort to re-create a look similar to late 19th century Parisian Follies Bergère posters of Fuller, which were lithograph prints. She sought to highlight the creation of movement, illustrate Fuller’s revolutionary lighting angles and colors of the silk, and incorporate the green and yellow colors found in prints of Fuller.
“I wanted it to be inspired by those posters,” she said. “I also watched the ‘Lily’ video and thought about how I could incorporate aspects specific to Gonzaga and ‘Lily,’ but also illustrate Loïe’s story.”
Pignolet’s favorite part of her research is the ongoing development of what feels like a personal relationship with Fuller. She describes Fuller as an “inspiring woman who didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Suzanne and I kept saying over the summer, ‘I feel like I know her. I feel like we’re friends,’” Pignolet said with a laugh. “We’d hear a story about something Loïe did and say, ‘That’s such a Loïe Fuller thing to do.’”
For her part, Ostersmith shares Pignolet’s love and appreciation for Fuller’s work.
“She’s equally as passionate about it as I am and it’s fun to watch her talk to others about it,” Ostersmith said. “She has her own love of the information and work that she’s done. And it’s so fearless and brave of her to take the information she’s found and make it so visual in her exhibit.”
Ostersmith describes Pignolet as “exceptional” in her research abilities. She said, “She is the epitome of an interdisciplinary artist and interdisciplinary thinker.”
Pignolet also serves the Gonzaga community through her position on the Dance Council and through her participation in Dance for Parkinson’s (disease), where students help teach a dance class for members of the Spokane, WA community with the degenerative nervous system disorder. She also dances with Gonzaga’s hip-hop team, the Bomb Squad, and participates in the on-campus organization, Setons.
Throughout the last weekend in April, she will dance for a third time in Gonzaga’s Annual Spring Dance concert. Previously, she performed in three Student Choreography Concerts, including last spring’s show in which she choreographed several dances. As a junior, her study abroad experience in Paris and Florence, Italy offered the opportunity to learn about European art history.
Looking to the future, Pignolet says that the research project has inspired her to pursue paths in arts-based education, promotion and marketing.
“I think I will definitely go into education at some point in my life, and this project has opened that up as an option,” she said. “I like learning new things and sharing that information with others.”