Gillis Legacy Project
July 30, 2015
Lecturing at Springboard Danse Montreal, Margie Gillis playfully recounted how, following performances, audiences demanded to know who did “those other dances,” so convinced by her characters they failed to recognize her. As Gillis’ Legacy Project passes her solos on, hallucination becomes reality, testing authenticity’s impact on audiences conditioned to tongues in cheek.
Introducing each artist was a composition of exercises shared with the students at Springboard. Gillis works with media as partners; they enter duetting a Handel aria. False starts confirm improvisation, but go further. A massive rond de jambe is not a rond de jambe, but a natural expression of the impulse to execute a movement idea that fulfills internal need.
Epitomizing Gillis’ “complex simplicity,” dancers nod and shake heads. A nod steps forward; a shake shifts side. Steps combine with rotations, facing each other in conversation. Heads agree and allow, though no one ever asks – a one sided game of “Mother, May I.” If met with a no, another rotation seeks a yes. Dynamics layer emotion on commands, coloring movement playfully or outraged. Space redefines – two no’s facing in close proximity nuzzle.
Troy Ogilvie danced Bloom to a flurried reading of Joyce – similar to what Gillis demonstrated a week prior. While movement also musically matches text, Ogilvie does not sign the words; she depicts - a living metaphor. The innocent structure exhausts as the poetry patters on. Faces change like channels to the story of a woman who chooses nature over a husband. Moving at the speed of thought, she buffers in silence to keep up.
Blue sits Susie Paulson in a chair facing another, empty, tipped, and unused, heightening anguish in a dance unconcerned with moves or drama, but the unfolding of feeling. Like Jell-o, she fills the round wooden seat, seeping through spaces as structure holds her together. Unable to find repose, she shoots atop, a level change fulfilling the emotional need for altitude.
In what Gillis terms “horizontal performance,” Ruth Levin and Maggie Fogerton both danced Little Animal, revealing Gillis’ fluid authorship. The commonalities are few – start upstage left, end downstage right. Start standing, find the floor, end standing. Levin, twig-like, broke to move forward, collapsing to the ground, arching and inching with her head. She reclines without rest. Fogerton absorbs, releasing through the ground. Her tension stems from self-probing, present even in stillness.
The Legacy Project is not a matter of ensuring material survival – there is none to be preserved. It retains the two-way channel through which Gillis has spent decades making beauty from mess. Translation to the contemporary performative habit is necessary as long as dance requires hu
man bodies to speak.
Margie Gillis will appear in the new multi-media theater piece "Pearl" on the life of Pearl S. Buck at the Lincoln Center, Aug. 27-30.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews