New contemporary dance works by Gaspard Louis will premiere online

The School of Dance announces the online premiere of "The Space Between" and "Space Between, Within, Without," two new contemporary dance works choreographed by former Pilobolus dancer Gaspard Louis in collaboration with senior contemporary dance students. The works explore the dynamics of physical space and relationships in the COVID-19 era while providing practical experience with pandemic-adapted creative processes common in the professional dance world. Videos of the works are available to view online for free.

Louis, a Haitian dancer, choreographer and artistic director who has served on the faculty at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, collaborated during the fall semester via Zoom with 13 dancers in Agnes de Mille Theatre on the UNCSA campus and three dancers who connected from Oregon, Maryland and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The result is two iterations of the same piece set to original music by noted dance composer Michael Wall.

Gaspard Louis collaborated with UNCSA contemporary dancers to create two new works

Choreographer, dancer and artistic director Gaspard Louis collaborated with senior contemporary dancers to create "The Space Between" and "Space Between, Within, Without."

"The Space Between" explores "the relationship between individuals who occupy the same space but are unable to touch one another," Louis said. "They physically connect but remain separated." Thirteen dancers wearing masks were filmed on campus.

The Space Between

Watch UNCSA dancers in "The Space Between"

"Space Between, Within, Without" is a compilation of three solos by dancers in remote locations. "As movers, our natural instinct is to soak up the space around us," Louis said. "However, In the age of COVID-19, we find ourselves in situations where we’re forced to practice self-isolation and remain at a minimum six feet from one another."

Space Between Within Without

Watch UNCSA dancers in "Space Between, Within, Without"

He said the students who worked remotely were dancing in very small spaces carved out of basements or whatever was available. "I asked them to go outside and explore, to enjoy the space and the air, to move freely and execute the movements more fully," he said. "Space Between, Within, Without" is an "exploration of the space, the air, and the joy of being able to move freely in an environment larger than six-by-six-foot boundaries."

The pandemic-defined project is an extraordinary experience for viewers, said Interim Dean of Dance Jared Redick. "You see two different iterations of the same work. It is the same material with two distinct visuals." 

Louis visited campus once during the process, but mostly worked remotely with the whole class as well as one-on-one and small group sessions to explore his concept and to improvise. "We have equipped our facilities with Zoom rigs, large monitors and cameras so we have the great ability to work remotely," said Associate Dean of Dance Brenda Daniels, who coordinated and facilitated the project. "Gaspard was able to share YouTube videos of his choreography for the students to learn; he was able to see the students and they were able to see him."

Louis asked the dancers to describe their relationships to each other through movement. "I prompted them to come up with six to 10 shapes and different combinations of gestures to connect with one another without touching, and then to learn each other’s movements," he said. "And then I turned the shapes and gestures into fluid movement."

That reflects the creative process he uses with the professional dancers in the company he founded: Gaspard & Dancers, based in Durham.

"Souke - Sh" by choreographer Gaspard Louis

Gaspard Louis' "Souke - Shake" premiered during Winter Dance 2018. / Photo: Peter Mueller

Redick said the process of collaborating via Zoom provided valuable training for dancers who will enter the profession in the spring. "Our process mirrors what we are seeing in the professional dance world," he said. "Our students are learning the skills and processes they will need during, and even coming out of the COVID era."

Technologies like Zoom enable dancers to work with renowned choreographers from around the world without the time and expense of travel, he said. "While you don’t get the full in-person experience, the result is interesting and ultimately fruitful, for the dancers and for viewers."

Dancers in "The Space Between" include Jacob Barker, Alexi Broman, Christopher Crawford, Ashlyn Daniel, Claire Finfgeld, Katherine Freund, Elena Gimenez, Clarissa Millen, Teresa Noonan, Max O’Connell, Hannah Staton, Brandon Talbott and Allyson Williams. Performers in “Space Between, Within, Without” were Margaux Lucas, Sara Smith and Sylvani Starchild-St. Clair.

Willow Longbrake, a fourth-year cinematography student in the UNCSA School of Filmmaking, filmed the group dance and edited both videos.

More about Gaspard Louis

Gaspard Louis has a B.F.A. from Montclair State University and an M.F.A. in dance from Hollins University, with additional dance studies at Gus Giordano Jazz Dance in Chicago and Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab in New York. He danced with New York-based AllNations, performing traditional dances from many parts of the world to entertain U.S. troops across the globe. With Pilobolus Dance Theatre, he traveled worldwide, collaborating on the choreography of nine major dance works and teaching master dance classes both nationally and internationally.

In addition to NCCU, Louis is also Creative Movement Director for ADF Outreach Program at the American Dance Festival and has taught at Duke and Elon universities.

He has premiered one other piece at UNCSA. “Souke – Shake,” celebrating the resiliency of the Haitian people after the island was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, was performed by contemporary dancers during Fall Dance 2018. He will be a guest artist in the UNCSA School of Dance again this spring.

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January 07, 2021