It’s one of the links between the five pieces the dancer and choreographer is presenting at Agora de la danse to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her career. Between them, they span two decades, the first created when she was but 27.
It’s with this one, Waltzing Matilda (1978), that she opens the evening, set to Tom Waits’s “Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen).” Gillis seems to be inhabiting a dream world, yet an excess of emotion makes her body tip over into reality through gravity.
In The Little Animal (1986), red lighting flattens her body into an image. Though she begins the piece on her feet, she soon ends up on her back as her contorted limbs move above her, awkwardly reaching out. I felt like I’d witnessed not dying, but birthing in reverse.
There is a similar progression (or regression) in Broken English (1980), set to Marianne Faithfull’s song of the same name. However, the music here is more upbeat, and so is her dancing. Her upright body exhibits certitude and confidence, her arms drawing shapes into the air with precision. Nevertheless, she inevitably ends up on the ground, her movement convulsive.
The words of James Joyce make up the soundtrack for Bloom (1989), more specifically the Molly Bloom soliloquy that ends Ulysses. Gillis’s dance becomes more literal and verbose as her hands act out the speech. Her acting abilities are nowhere more revealed than here.
Though the most recent, Voyage (1997) is the most cloaked in the aesthetics of its time. The peculiarly fashioned lighting that falls on the background has a purple tint; cookie cutters shape the lighting that falls onto the floor into water ripples; and Gillis is wearing a trench coat and a beret.
The dancer stands as on the edge of a precipice. The two suitcases dangling from her arms fly around her with a life of their own. Her balance is often threatened, as though she were standing on a boat rocked from side to side by waves.
If there is another link in Gillis’s work, it is the powerlessness of human beings against the chaotic forces of the universe. In every piece, she appears like a speck of dust floating through space. By birth, we are all castaways, she seems to say. All we can do is control what is within us.
February 26-28 at 8pm; March 1 at 4pm
Agora de la danse
Tickets: 35$ / Students or 30 years old and under: 24$