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Flash Review 1, 1-20: The Whisper in the Wilderness
Waltzing and Listening with Margie Gillis

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2004 Angela Jones

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NEW YORK -- Margie Gillis is the reason I dance and choreograph. When I first saw her at 18, my path detoured far away from the direction I'd been going. I saw for the first time that dance could touch people in a real way and communicate subtleties of emotion that words do so inadequately. Over the past 13 years, I have seen her perform five other times -- most recently Saturday night at the Joyce -- spent an afternoon in her kitchen talking to her and taken class from her. All have had a profound effect on me in different ways.

As we both get older, it has been an interesting process to see how Gillis's work has changed and how my observing eye has changed. How each show affects me personally is like having an artistic compass that helps me measure where I am, where I am going, and where I have been. The one thing that never changes is that she always puts all of herself into what she does, which never ceases to inspire me. However, it is interesting to note that I can't help but have a certain nostalgia for her earlier work. Each one was a gem, clearly structured: clear characters, clear arcs ending with clear statements. Her works in the Joyce concert are far more experimental and exploratory but somehow seem to lack definition. For example, though "Elimination" and "A Complex Simplicity of Love" are polar opposites in terms of ambience and feeling, they both repeat a lot of similar gestures at a similar tempo, but then suddenly the pieces end, and we are in the same place we started. They are a real contrast to "Waltzing Matilda" (1978), revisited on this program and which just carries us along the journey of this child/woman where hope finally dares to make itself known. Through "Breathing in Bird Bone" again seemed to be a bit repetitive in tempo and gesture, I did appreciate its humor and characterization. Gillis's final triumph was "What the Wind Whispers," echoing the earlier work "Mara," only the woman is older now, more cognizant and in control of her hair, her dress, and the way she presents herself.

Gillis comes through New York City like a breath of fresh air, daring to show emotion and real vulnerability to people who are just waiting to eat artists alive. I appreciate her humanity and authenticity both on stage and off, unique in the performing arts world. Her presence somehow reminds me I have to keep answering those eternal questions: Why do I dance and choreograph in the first place? What did that 18-year-old see and gravitate so intensely to -- that unspoken thing that I want to show to others?

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