*photo taken by Alejandro Ulloa*
When a choreographer is invited to set a work on a company it is always interesting to think about how the dancers relate to the “finalized” composition of dance. I say this because in the case of Gabrielle and her choreographic process the dancers – their brains and their unique bodies - are integral to every aspect of the work’s inception.
It is incredible to see what has been done in the studio these past four days just by working intelligently within the parameters of the human body. It all begins with Gabrielle charging the dancers to explore the capabilities and limitations of their individual bodies during class. Rehearsal begins and they hone this skill proceeding to use these cultivated instincts when Gabrielle starts to generate and manipulate the phrase material.
Then are multifarious ways in which Gabrielle approaches the shifting and rearranging of established phrases while simultaneously generating new substance to place in her back pocket. Gabrielle began by working with three men. She asked Aleks to look at a sketch of seventeenth century land surveyor tools and create a string of movement based on the idea of using these tools in a confined space. Alejandro was asked to repeat a phrase while thinking about himself partnering an (invisible) individual executing this phrase. While those two were thinking about their tasks Gabrielle worked with William, manipulating the phrase to include different qualities, accents, and intent.
I consider the way that Gabrielle approaches work with her dancers as an ultimate collaboration. They try in tandem to replicate and revise phrases of improvisation, connecting ideas that register in the body rather than through any outside emotional element. There is no ego involved in this practice, the dancers act as open-minded and fearless artists while Gabrielle facilitates the process by creating certain sources for inspiration and impulse. She often asked “where does the movement want to go?” Gabrielle empowers the dancers to be makers of their own physical destiny. If they are truly focused, responsive, and open to her process it shows that they are able to make decisions with their own bodies that clearly fit into the programmatic material Gabrielle is constructing.
After observing this process reoccur throughout the week I believe the success of this approach can be accredited to a combination of Gabrielle’s ability to recognize when the connection of movement ideas truly resonate and her articulate and highly accessible instructions. She uses an interesting combination of dance vocabulary, simple colloquial language, and evocative visualizations. In order to have her dancers successfully translate something as simple and elegant as performing a task ( like what Aleks and Alejandro were asked to do) into redolent action in space they first need to be able to register a strong idea about the movement and its intended direction internally. It is only after accomplishing this that the dancers are able to convince any observer of the movement’s truth.
Eventually this phrase material becomes pervasive enough to be used as vocabulary to establish relationships with the other dancers in the space. After the first few days of fostering material Gabrielle began creating interactions with the dancers, starting with something as simple as Coco performing a certain phrase on the floor and Alejandro entering into the space to lift and manipulate her at certain moments. This is where I saw Gabrielle make the most distinct and intriguing chorographic choices. She was extremely precise yet experimental with where and how to place the connections between the dancers. Each moment of contact was carefully deconstructed in order have a particular force of impact for the audience while still transitioning smoothly into what came before it and what was to transpire after. When taking time to create these moments of physical communication between the dancers Gabrielle would persist in unearthing the connection between the physical movements and their qualitative value. She would not move on if a gesture or transition did not encompass the evolving organic thematic material of the piece.
It was only after this meticulous process of the conception of the relationships between the dancers that Gabrielle began to incorporate music. During rehearsal time Gabrielle had been playing music on a loop. It appeared the music was playing for inspiration and a general sense of dynamics during the birthing of the phrase material, something for the dancers to pull from in order to discover levels of nuances and depth in the movement material. Things changed when she placed a phrase alongside a piece of music with the intent of creating moments of synchronization and significance. Gabrielle would then discover where to begin the music, often having the dancers start in silence before playing the music on a fixed gesticulation. Throughout this trial and error period Gabrielle tries to highlight the elastic feeling or the “influence” of the movement through its alliance with the music. The idea of this is to accentuate and feature the internal motivation or an impulse in the phrase of movement that the dancers had created for themselves in the beginning stages of this process. Once again Gabrielle observes creative license with when and how to do this according to her artistic own methodology for this piece.
One may think that this type of piecing together of movement and music can ruin the invigoratingly animate nature of the movement. However, the movement material is already made from an organic process. So even if they are what some may call “synthetically” attributed to the music they will still feel and appear organic in the space. At this point in the process there is a fine line between happy coincidence and manufacturing spatial and human relationship. Gabrielle has to make decisions about how to keep the vitalized consistency of the piece. This entails being absolutely certain there are no dead moments or instances of neutrality in the space. It was here that she began filing the sections of dance in order to establish the ability to recall the material as it was at this point in the process when she returns to Mystic Ballet in September. But ultimately the dancers who Gabrielle worked with have a knowledge of this choreography that no one will quite ever be able to replicate. An approach to this type of original material is not necessarily the same way one would approach revisiting a ballet variation from Paquita. The movement was generated uniquely from these dancers, this choreographer, and the specific creative environment that was established during that one week.
I was fortunate enough to see these intriguing dance vignettes being created from an introverted internal period of exploration, to the clearly established development of succinct ideas and into actual movement that an audience could respond to. It is fascinating how Gabrielle allows the audience’s psyche to absorb the ironic gestures of every day physical labor and social relationships through her extremely fast yet seamless transition of ideas. I am extremely intrigued to hear about the next step of adjustment before a live performance that I will hopefully be able to attend later on this year.