“Shake out the exterior!” It’s a misty Sunday morning in Santa Barbara and Shannon Gillen is gesturing her arms across a crowded dance studio, pausing just long enough to encourage a flexed foot here, coax a spine there, before launching into the next wave of rousing instructions. “Yes, yes, weighted bodies,” she calls out, and fourteen dancers twist and invert, sinking deeper into the marley floor. This is the VIM VIGOR way.
When Gillen agreed to carve out some time for a community Master Class, word swept thru the city with the ferocity of the Santa Ana winds. By early Sunday morning, two dozen Santa Barbara dancers and observers had deposited themselves onto the Montecito School of Ballet’s doorstep, eager to dive in (literally) to the company’s powerhouse movement language. “Shannon has amazing energy,” enthused local dancer Nikki Powell. “She just says things in a way that feel more relatable.”
A few days earlier, as the company braced itself to run through FUTURE PERFECT in real time, and the weight of VIM VIGOR’s creative undertaking continued to push relentlessly against a looming deadline, Gillen opened up about the importance of relevancy and engaging broader audiences. “If you want to translate something ephemeral, and you want support for it, bridging the gap between the abstract and the relatable is essential. There are subtle ways of giving people permission to describe what they see, and I’m interested in highlighting those.”
Watching Gillen and her dancers glide across the studio in spirited demonstration–a sea of community artists following gamely behind them–it’s impossible to imagine that in just a few short days, this tireless crew will be debuting a heroic feat of theatrical and multi-sensorial prowess (with no less than an original score by company dancer Martin Durov) fleshed out over the course of a four-week residency. “Give up the ghost,” Gillen commands, as the students dig deeper into the challenging movement, and I suspect she’s reminding herself, too.