By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Stephanie Gilliland bristles at the notion that contemporary dance choreographers should make dances that will play in Kansas. “What has happened to the notion of freedom? Experimentation? Risk taking? Creating culture?” she wonders. At heart Gilliland, whose 4-year-old L.A.-based company TONGUE appears at Highways Performance Space later this month, is a contemplative sensualist. When she dances, it often looks as if she is listening for something deep within herself, and when she begins to hear it, you can see her start to smile. It‘s a seductive, I’ve-got-a-secret smile that reveals her enjoyment of the waves of movement welling up and beginning to spill out into sinuous, momentum-based phrases that play with gravity and suspension. Limbs snap out and recoil, her body flies into the air then falls heavily, all before returning to a central core of energy that almost audibly hums. Gilliland‘s aesthetic is rooted in the carnal bliss of pure physicality -- no external drama, no social critique, no battle of the sexes, just the exquisite joy of being a body in motion. Hence, the subtitle for the Highways concert: “An evening of dances that won’t change the world.”
Gilliland‘s dancers, too, tend to smile and laugh a lot, taking obvious pleasure in what their bodies are doing. Their deep, long-term working process shows in their commitment to the moment -- from subtle permutations to high-velocity partnering, they playfully engage with the movement, one another and the audience. There’s something very infectious about their energy: These are real bodies, real people, having a good time. Tongue dancer and rehearsal director Holly Johnston admits that this is what first attracted her to Gilliland‘s work: “I was watching a real human being onstage revealing effort, risk and pleasure -- all these things that were going on authentically in her body.”
Gilliland hesitates to reveal details about the show at Highways, although she hints that she’s been exploring how her dancers can switch between distinct physicalities and ways of relating to an audience, from object of the spectatorial gaze to active participant in a kinetic dialogue. The program will include Big Manuel, a 12-minute ride through a rapid-fire succession of idiosyncratic solos, duets and trios, which first premiered on the tiny stage of the Alterknit Lounge at the Knitting Factory. Unlike the intense, internal accretions of movement involved in choreographing last year‘s near-hourlong meditation on corporeal spirituality, Soon, Gilliland said that she choreographed Big Manuel much as she imagines Jackson Pollock painted -- fast, loose, freewheeling. The analogy holds in the finished product: The piece explodes in different directions out of the limiting frame of a pint-size spatial area.
But then, Gilliland avidly believes that creative risk is a central aspect of making dances. “Why do we feel so compelled to validate what we do?” she says. “Choreographers today have forgotten that the appreciation they receive by a larger audience has been made possible by the trailblazers who came before and most certainly weren’t always appreciated. Thank God for the obscure, outside-the-mainstream dance artist!” And thank God, too, for choreographers who fearlessly revel in the delights of the body.