by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal
The Performance Garage has been supporting Philadelphia dance artists since 2002. Founded by Jeanne Ruddy and Victor Keen, its ever-expanding services offer instructors, companies, and choreographers a place to create and share their work. The Performance Garage is now furthering its commitment to local dance artists with its newest program offering, the Dr. RJ Wallner DanceVisions Residency. Ruddy designed the award to recognize the outstanding talent of a Philadelphia dance artist. Its inaugural recipient is Nora Gibson Contemporary Ballet. Gibson founded NGCB in 2014 in order to pursue a progressive approach to ballet in the 21st Century.
Ruddy notified Gibson of the residency by phone in late January. Gibson was told that she was selected based on her ability to “thoroughly immerse her audiences in her work through her meticulous choreography, careful lighting design, and use of original music scores.” The award granted 45 hours of rehearsal space to create a fully produced show with technical, marketing and financial support. Gibson’s residency began February 1st and will culminate in her presentation of HUMAN on April 20-22 at The Performance Garage.
Gibson describes HUMAN as a post-human ballet that contemplates otherness and objectivity. It follows an AI being who moves in and out of human patterns and time. Gibson says, “The subject of AI technology is an interesting one because it also raises questions of consciousness and how our ability to perceive ourselves is integral to being human.” The inspiration for the piece started back when she had been drawing from a Wallace Stevens poem, “The Snow Man,” for a short ballet. She was interested in the poem’s theme of objectivity. HUMAN continues to delve into this theme. Gibson is also interested in taking traditional devices from ballet and re-contextualizing them. In HUMAN, there are different “acts,” where the central character is taken from one state or environment to another, and where the literal and the surreal become blurred. She explains, “You see this in traditional ballets, where the protagonist goes from a village to a forest, and where people dance in dream scenes or after death. I wanted to capture ballet’s wonderful lack of adherence to a rational metaphysical construct, but in a contemporary way that addresses current questions.”
Gibson says her creative process involves merging themes with the visual. She develops the look of the piece, including lighting and, in the case of HUMAN, video graphics, while constructing the choreography. She works to understand what the distinct parts of an idea are than builds movement vocabulary. “I use modular phrases which are used in variation throughout the piece. I make cannons, fugues, and other self-created structures that contain the movement,” she says. Gibson uses structure heavily in her work and feels that there’s a weird relationship between approaching work systematically and intuitively, meaning that structures have a life of their own when you let them.
Gibson says this opportunity will allow her to present her work without debt. Ruddy is hopeful that further funding, which also includes naming rights, will allow for additional residencies to support the work of other local dance artists.