Aerial dancer Annie Bunker has figured out how to teach, perform, be with family, and farm, all during a pandemic

Annie Bunker is a member of the dance faculty at UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College. Faced with adapting her personal and professional life to a pandemic, she juggles teaching, performing, family life, and farming, with the extraordinary grace and skill of one who has mastered complex movement.

By Susan Enright

The above video is an aerial dance with Annie Bunker and her son Wrenn Bunker Koesters performed at the Palace Theater, Hilo, in July, 2020. Music by Bunker’s husband, Chuck Koesters. The narrative is the poem, Pushing Water, by Charles Alexander, which can be found at the end of this story.

Aerial dancer Annie Bunker fractured her arm 12 weeks ago, an injury still healing. But two weeks before the dance lecturer at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was sidelined from performing, she and her son Wrenn Bunker Koesters, a dance talent in his own right, danced an aerial performance they choreographed for the video series “Live from the Empty Palace,” a virtual venue produced by Hilo’s historic Palace Theater.

Annie Bunker
Annie Bunker. Photo credit: Chuck Koesters

The Bunkers’ dance piece was released on Oct. 21 by the Palace. It’s set to a narrated excerpt of the serial poem, “Pushing Water,” written by Charles Alexander, an artist, poet, bookmaker, and the founder and director of Chax Press in Tucson, AZ. The original music is by Bunker’s husband, Chuck Koesters, who, in addition to his artistic talents, is general manager of the Hilo Yacht Club.

Bunker has been a member of the dance faculty at UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College since 2006, accepting the two appointments following decades of working professionally with her modern and aerial dance company, O-T-O Dance, a national and international touring company.

Aerial dance is a subgenre of modern dance that emerged in the 1970s. The choreography uses a bar hung from the ceiling (or from a tree, as was the case while Bunker and son Wrenn choreographed “Pushing Water”), which allows performers to move in space three dimensionally, using vertical, horizontal and circular paths to move.

Annie and wren each hold fruit while holding onto an aerial dance bar hung from a tree.
Annie Bunker and son Wrenn Bunker Koesters stand near the low flying trapeze apparatus hung from one of the monkey pod trees on their farm. “With this pandemic we needed to find a way to keep flying and a place to continue creating,” says Annie Bunker. “This spot is where ‘Pushing Water’ was choreographed.” Photo credit: Chuck Koesters

Bunker says that through the O-T-O Dance company, she and her husband were part of the first wave of aerial dance artists instrumental in bringing recognition to aerial dance as a valid and significant dance art form. And they are pioneers in sharing the dance form with people of other cultures.

Teaching dance during a pandemic

Curbed a bit by the arm fracture and the pandemic, Bunker is currently teaching modern dance online for UH Hilo and environmental dance in a hybrid format for Hawai‘i CC. She says both classes are progressing well and the students are engaged.

Annie on swinging bar with quote: Modern dance is a movement form that expresses ideas, feeling, energy, time, spatial use and emotion through the use of abstraction
Photo of Annie Bunker by Ed Floes

“Modern dance is a movement form that expresses ideas, feeling, energy, time, spatial use and emotion through the use of abstraction,” says Bunker.

Teaching modern dance was a challenge when new covid guidelines mandated online teaching. Bunker needed to figure out how to teach a visceral, abstract, three-dimensional art form through a two-dimensional medium for students who have access to very limited space. “The Zoom platform has been our classroom and Flipgrid has been our platform where weekly movement studies are shared,” she says.

Once transitioned to the online class, Bunker started by introducing the elements of self-discipline as associated with dance as a performing art, beginning with the most basics of movement technique while mentoring students to cultivate a movement relationship with space, all of which is designed to foster self-confidence.

“I decided to facilitate these challenges by tapping into each student’s personal and authentic movement potential,” Bunker says. “By utilizing methods and techniques that foster exploration of creative processing and problem solving, the students are making connections within themselves, uncovering their creative potential and finding support with one another.”

Twice each year, the dance departments of UH Hilo and Hawai‘i CC present a dance concert, “Great Leaps,” to showcase the students’ routines. The weekly movement studies that Bunker is doing now are preparing her students for this final choreographic class project. “Virtual Great Leaps” is being produced by the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center, spearheaded by Lee Dombrowski, director of the center. Dates and times to be announced.

A family of talent

Bunker comes from a family of achievers. Her parents excelled in a variety of fields including the arts, sciences, and the military.

“My mother, Betty, was a modern dancer, visual artist, art historian and teacher, and my father, Garrett, was a scientist, natural environment proponent, and avid gardener,” she says. Both parents were naval officers in the war; her father retired as a rear admiral and her mother as a lieutenant.

Her siblings were raised in what she describes as “a most interesting, dynamic and challenging post WWII household.”

“My parents were strong proponents of the progressive, mind expanding, individual and collective power of what today is recognized as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education,” she says.

Bunker’s sons, Cooper and Wrenn, were raised in a creative environment connected with the family’s dance company and conservatory school, the ORTSPACE, in Tucson, AZ., where classes in a multitude of performing and visual arts were taught.

“As they grew, they learned about many aspects of the theatrical environment both as performers and technicians,” says Bunker.

By the time Wrenn was born, Bunker and Koesters had begun including aerial dance with their modern dance company.

“Wrenn learned how to walk whilst holding onto the low bar of the single point low flying trapeze apparatus and has been dancing (and) moving ever since,” says Mom.

Two aerial dancers on bar hung from ceiling.
Pre-pandemic, Annie Bunker and her son Wrenn Bunker Koesters perform in a dance entitled “Ave Maria,” choreographed by their aerial dance mentor Robert Davidson. Photo: Zachary Gorski

Cooper graduated from UH Hilo in 2005 with a degree in marine science, and now lives on Maui with his wife, Melody, who is a 2007 UH Hilo graduate with a degree in administration of justice. Wrenn graduated from the University of Arizona in 2014 with a degree in political science.

A couple of years later, Wrenn went to work for the 2016 national election in Arizona, California, Florida, and on Hawai‘i Island. He and his partner, Natalie Strauss, originally from Hakalau, returned to live full time on Hawai‘i Island after the election, living next door to his parents and discovering a passion for farming.

“We have a family farm and are working five acres of earth growing many things,” says Bunker. “Over the past few years, Faceplant Farm has become one of the east side Big Island growers of Mamaki Tea. Wrenn recently accepted an assistant manager position with Shaka Tea Company in Hilo.”

And, it appears, Wrenn has also once again accepted the position of dance partner with an amazing mother.

Pushing Water 12  
By Charles Alexander

(Editor’s note: The words to this poem are provided in order to meet ADA accessibility requirements for the uncaptioned video at the top of the story. The poem remains the copyright of the author and may not be reproduced without permission. The poem has been reformatted below to fit the technical parameters of this blog; the purpose of this reproduction is solely to meet ADA requirements for the hearing impaired, not to present it in the author’s intended format. To see the poem as originally formatted, visit Pushing Water 12.)

let the words
fall any way at all

that they may hit

certain slant

on winter days

light or summer

fall on without

respite none

certain words
and recombine
(so be it)
in the book
I am coming to read
(a reading is a writing)
has it been long enough, doctor
your hundred years or two
lifetimes one side of

the fall

where the syllables fall with
or without genius
they fall
and are not abandoned
from the air on one side

an echo the language

repeats itself goes on

repeating itself though

there is no such thing

as twice the same

and the dirt on one side
to walk with no shoes
and glass and tar and

cut the feet
a fine balance

air and dirt

water and rock

word and echo

how can you retell

something when you

were there, sling those
words to make an entirely
different matter

an edge of balance

air and here and there
must be more than two terms
more to say another to fall

air is cut with motion

trapeze in motion
as though grace
could save a language
in the dirt on the
other side of air

a beautiful thing

moves the air
and in doing so moves
the dirt
the dust

disperses at the edge

of the city
edge of air and dirt
what syllable falls here
able balance falls
not until I have made the

syllables balance the air

and dance grace dirt

with new flight

not until
flight combs the language into
raw sound of free voice
will water fall and edge
fall away from air

pushing water
air and
light pushing water
walk and release
the pins fall in small
explosions, corridors
of wanted correspondence

the body tense moving

releases in smooth anguish

overlooked on Sunday
pushing water

body mixes body
falls air pushing water

did she say something,

lucky strike,
do wanna get,
give and get

no one says that

nor pushes water

for rain at the edge of
city desert pushes the

balance the wave

the green bud waits for no


no push


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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