Mad dogs, Englishmen and modern dancers
The work ethic of dancers tends to be a little different.
Thursday afternoon, Janet Lilly, of the UWM dance faculty, was wrapping up an improvisation workshop in Lake Park with seven or so graduate students. I caught up with them near the lighthouse. They were discussing which outdoor dances could go on in a rainstorm and which might have to wait for a clear day. (The thinking was that a free, public showing would happen in Lake Park at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5, but that could change. It’s improvisation class, after all.)
The eight students were not the fresh-faced 20-somethings you might expect. UWM’s grad program is designed to serve seasoned veterans with real-world careers. The spent six boot-camp weeks in Milwaukee each summer and correspond with their teachers via phone, e-mail and video as they dance where their careers take them. Lots of New Yorkers are always in the mix, and that’s the case this summer.
Lindsay Gilmour, 34, and Emma Draves, 30, stuck around for an interview after class broke up.
Gilmour, a native of Corona del Mar, Cal., lived in Brooklyn and danced in New York for several years. She is now an assistant professor of dance at Ithaca College, in Ithaca, N.Y. Draves is from Marion, Ind., and now lives in Chicago. She has a B.A. in dance from Denison University, in Ohio. She has lived and danced in Chicago for seven years.
“I’ve danced since I was a kid, but I’ve always tried to stop,” Gilmour said. “I got a master’s degree in international relations (Columbia U., New York, 2006) because I thought the world had more urgent issues than dance. But then I immediately got a job teaching dance at Ithaca. You can try to leave, but it pulls you back.”
Draves works as a modern dancer, in Shirley Mordine’s company, among others, in Chicago. But her passion is Bharat Natyam, the classical dance of India.
“And it’s not just because you get to be pretty,” she said, referring to the gorgeous make-up, costuming and jewelry that come with Bharata Natyam.
Her project this summer, A Prelude to Ashes, is a solo she is creating for herself, focuses on combining elements of modern and classical Indian style.
“I love modern for itself and Bharata Natyam for itself,” she said. “My focus is to be respectful, to not just exploit Indian dance for my own ends. I just want to make it all feel right as it comes from me.”
Gilmour, too, refers to a culture outside our own. Tibet was her specialty for her international relations degree. She spent time there and became intimate with the culture. Her summer intensive piece, Skywalking, refers directly to Tibetan myth of a female spirit, a dakini, who flew over the country, tamed the demoness who resided there and brought the people to Buddhism.
“The have this idea that the landscape of Tibet is actually the supine body of the demoness,” Gilmour said. “As we’re lying down, we are the landscape of Tibet.”
The professional-friendly nature of UWM’s program attracted both dancer-choreographers to Milwaukee.
“I didn’t want to go off to some cloistered environment for three years and then come back to the world to try to apply what I’d learned,” Draves said. “It’s so great to be here now and to take what I’ve learned right back into my career and try it.”
“I’ll be teaching dance history in the spring, while I’m taking dance history here at the same time,” Gilmour said. “I can apply it right away.
“They treat us like professionals here. We’re honored for the work we’ve done for years, but we’re also free ask questions and not know everything. It’s great to have mentors like Janet (Lilly) and Simone (Ferro), to have sounding boards instead of being the sounding board.”
UWM’s dance grad students tend to be bright, articulate, inquisitive sorts. Get to know more of them between 6:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Friday, July 30. I will moderate a pre-show panel featuring choreographers Olase Freeman, Cynthia Garner-Gutierez, Amii LeGendre, Scott Lyons, Lindsay Gilmour, Angie Yetzke and performer Nicole Wolcott. It will take place in the art lounge, on the second floor of the Main Stage theater building.
The Dancemakers program features new work by all of the above. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 30-31, at the Main Stage, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd. Tickets are $10, $7 for UWM personnel and students, at the Peck School of the Arts box office, 414 229-4308.