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Displaying the power of human emotion

by Archives January 31, 2001
Wearing a tight, black body suit, her strong and muscular thighs swathed in a long, green skirt, acclaimed dancer Margie Gillis took the floor of Concordia’s Hall building last week to address dance as a medium and message concerning
AIDS.
Gillis spoke passionately during a lecture organized by the Concordia University HIV/ AIDS Curriculum project.
“I just want to share with you my feelings when dealing with politically charged subjects,” she said, as she brushed aside strands of red hair from her angular cheeks.
When Gillis’ brother died a few years ago from the HIV illness, she lost more than just a family member. Gone was her mentor, her dance partner, someone who she described as ‘her hero’.
Gillis, whose work has taken her around the world and gained her the title of Cultural Ambassador of Quebec and Canada, has been dancing solo for 29 years.
Her own work is troubled and serene, dark and humorous. She engages in human emotion and expresses its different, and often painful sentiments through her dance.
“As a performer, you can engage the audience in your experience. If they feel your injustice and your indignation, they will be ympathetic,” she told the 250 or so mesmerized onlookers.
Showing a few dance clips seemed to better explain her grief than mere words.
‘Iccarus at night’ is the portrayal of a man who discovers he is HIV positive and how he copes with it. It is sad but powerful, as strong, half-naked male bodies dance either in unison or in isolation.
“It’s about the support of the other men,” explained Gillis. She added that some of the men turn away from each other because they don’t understand (the disease), yet they want to reach out and give their friend comfort, explaining the more intimate dancing.
The piece was created for the Paul Taylor Company by Chris Gillis, her late brother, after finding out about his illness. Gillis pointed out that he was also dealing with complexities within the community, such as addressing one’s past lovers to discover how the virus may have been contracted.
In ‘Landscape’, a piece that was created specifically for her by Chris, Gillis dances the tragedy of AIDS with a dead tree branch, the haunting music of Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Hagerup Grieg crying softly in the background. Adding that the branch represents both the skeleton and the end of
life, she said peacefully that through art, and with her brother’s help, she is able to face death without being frightened of it.

“There’s a lot of strength and courage in sharing,” she smiled at her audience.
For her, AIDS is an atrocity that has brought great darkness, completely changing humanity’s sexual consciousness.
“This is an outrage. It is our outrage, as a community. Not just for AIDS, but for any injustice,” she declared, emphasizing her last point.
It is the reason why art and dance are such powerful ingredients for this highly active spokesperson, who dedicates her energies to various AIDS organizations, as well as Oxfam and the Planned Parenthood Foundation.
“Go out and share your passion but don’t punch the converted in the face,” was Gillis’ message. In a piece she showed from the TV special ‘Dances for Life’, she gave the audience clarification.
Running in a long, black dress, shedding items of clothing to a Sinead O’Conner tune, her pain and frustration could be felt. She pulled it up through the billowing dress, tore it out with strong arm movements, and pulled it up from
her stomach and through her heart.
Gillis believes that the public will learn from performances such as these, rather than turn their backs on them, if they feel the artist’s indignation.
“I become a manifestation of their outrage, which is my outrage,” she nodded to the crowd.
Throughout the hour-long lecture, whose aim was to raise awareness towards the challenges faced by those who are living with, or with someone with HIV/AIDS, Gillis was adamant that political activism can be clearly and strongly voiced through art.
“Remembering this will change your way of creating,” she said, adding that education and knowledge concerning AIDS can be furthered if passion and energy are channeled correctly.

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