It’s early on a Monday morning, and Todd Jared is furrowing his brow over a stage covered in rubber mulch: the lingering vestiges of a dynamic set that 2016 DANCEworks artist-in-residence Shannon Gillen conjured up during her company’s creative reckoning at the Lobero Theatre.
As the Lobero’s Technical Director, Jared has been ceremoniously tasked with managing the reverberations of an artist’s inventive whims, a role that he admittedly enjoys when working with professionals like Gillen. “I admire tenacity,” he emphasizes, “and Shannon is one of those types of people who won’t stop until a problem is properly solved.” Today’s problem is figuring out how to efficiently pack and transport three tons of shredded tires back east for the New York premiere of FUTURE PERFECT, Gillen’s gravity-defying labor of love that came to fruition after an arduous month of lengthy rehearsals and late-night finessing during VIM VIGOR’s Santa Barbara tenure.
Fast-forward five months, and Gillen stands before a sizeable crowd at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, an intimate theater in New York City’s Gramercy neighborhood which is packed, despite the evening’s bitter temperatures. Addressing the opening-weekend audience, she briefly discusses the journey that has brought FUTURE PERFECT onto the stage before swiftly taking her customary position in the theater’s control booth. When the lights fade in, the piece comes alive with familiar voracity, instantly recognizable despite a carefully revised opening. The sections transition with tangible ease, no doubt the result of subsequent months in the studio kneading and refining a physically-challenging and wildly innovative approach to contemporary movement. The dancers flip and twist their way around a physical narrative, and with a final breath of emotional urgency, find the proverbial (and literal) light at the end of the tunnel. It is a debut to be proud of, with audience members at their feet, and murmurings of, “wow,” and, “what just happened?” drifting thru the aisles.
With two successful runs of FUTURE PERFECT now behind her (check out the SB Independent’s review), Gillen took a moment to reflect on her time in Santa Barbara, and the work that can emerge from a rigorous and uninterrupted diet of immersive creation. “Working at the Lobero–and with Dianne and DANCEworks–gave new promise to the art I have spent my life pursuing, the virtuosic creations that enter an audience’s imagination, suspend reality, and then free-fall into the psychological worlds of our inner selves,” she said. Asked about the major differences between east and west coast audiences, and Gillen is quick to point out that environment is everything: “Californians laugh more easily. This lightness, this joy and awe were such an intrinsic part of creating FUTURE PERFECT. We brought this lightness with us to NYC and then my fears were in reverse: would it be too happy, too magical?”
The DANCEworks methodology of immersing New York choreographers with California terroir–not to mention fostering a consistent and direct relationship between audience and artist through its Friday Club program–was “an essential reminder to trust audiences to exchange with powerful new work,” said Gillen. “The whole company was impacted by what we felt from the Santa Barbara audience and from the discussions we shared with those who saw the work; this connection is everything.”
True to form, Gillen has already set the company on course towards fresh initiatives, with teaching and creation engagements in Chile, California, Michigan, Canada, and Germany; opportunities to continue her unwavering desire to change who wants to go to see dance and what that experience brings. Holding fast to the buoyancy and confidence brought about by a prolific residency (“It was a joy and an honor and a wild ride!”) and the success of their six-day run in New York City, the company ultimately decided to shed the weight of projects past, donating the three tons of rubber mulch to an elementary school in Queens.