Be Our Guest
This semester at SFUAD, the dance majors will be given not only numerous performance opportunities, but also the chance to learn from guest choreographers. In the first month of school alone, both Miguel Perez and Gail Gilbert have set foot in the dance studio to create new works for the dancers.
As the first guest, Miguel Perez came to SFUAD through his connection with Shannon Elliott, the head of the dance department. The two previously danced together in Chicago and kept in touch as they discussed Perez’s potential involvement with the school while Elliott was developing the dance program.
“I think it’s because my experience is, I’ve done concert work and I’ve also done commercial work, so I could tie both of them together and I could give them some advice on each,” Perez says. With a background that includes not only appearing on TV, but also dancing for Celine Dion, Perez’s current gig working for the dance company Body Traffic in Los Angeles helps bring his experiences in the dance world full circle.
In creating his own work, Perez cites the time crunch as the greatest obstacle. “You don’t think about it, but a minute takes a long time to create,” he says. Perez made the decision to not come over-prepared with choreography or a concept, as he would be working with dancers that he never seen move before. By the third day of rehearsals, the piece already nears completion and the dancers have adapted his loosey-goosey, happy movement.
“I feel like it’s a joyous piece. Like they’re having a good time, they’re letting loose, they have no problems once they step onto that stage,” Perez states excitedly as he discusses working with the students. Their hard work and enthusiasm to be learning is mentioned, as well as evident throughout rehearsal. “Something about having a small program is really beneficial for each of them because they get a lot of individual attention,” he says. As rehearsals progress, Perez works with each student and is able to leave his mark not only on them, but on the department as a whole.
Gail Gilbert, the second guest choreographer to spend a weekend working with the dancers, has a thorough background in modern dance in particular, with a current role in Cirque du Soleil’s production of “KA” rounding off her resume. She connected to SFUAD through Layla Amiss, one of the dance teachers on staff. The two have danced together and known each other for years, with Amiss suggesting to Elliott that Gilbert would be a good fit for the students.
Unlike Perez, Gilbert came into the studio with a concept in mind and watched it transform for the better as she got to know the dancers.
“Translated from the brain to the reality of studio space, and to actually see it on the bodies, is another step,” she says. In watching her work, it is clear that Gilbert has choreographed under a time crunch before. Gilbert arrived at SFUAD with an organized plan in place and worked through each day by teaching movement vocabulary, setting solos and working with the entire group on large chunks of material. When asked about the dancers, Gilbert also acknowledges the work ethic of the group before launching into how well the girls move together, and the nuances that has lended to the piece.
“The fact that it’s five women is coloring the flavor of how it’s gonna end up,” she says. With movement that she describes as “poetic and gestural” and sections of the dance with nicknames such as “Criss Cross” and “Radar,” Gilbert’s personality and own experience are already shining through the piece on the third day of rehearsal. And Gilbert’s role as guest choreographer has certainly impacted the movement quality and thought processes of the students.
The students will continue to rehearse the two pieces throughout the remainder of the semester, with a performance of each culminating in the annual Spring Dance Show, on May 14 and 15. In the meantime, with two guest choreographers having come and gone, the dance majors at SFUAD have gained connections and insight that they otherwise would not have experienced.