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Embodying Margie Gillis

by Archives February 26, 2008

In honour of her dance company’s 35th anniversary, Montreal’s Margie Gillis has created her first group work, M.Body.7, as part of the Montreal High Lights Festival. I had the chance to talk to her before the show’s world premiere this week.

M.Body.7 is the first group show you have presented since the creation of the Margie Gillis Foundation in 1981. Why such a long wait?
Money. Organization. We need good administrators in the arts and you have to be very dedicated. There’s not a lot of money, but it’s very rewarding. Also because, predominantly, I’ve done solo work for 25 years. I choreograph in a very unique way, so I realized that I could get people to dance in the way that I dance.

What does the “M” in the title stand for?
Margie. Or “M” body. It’s sort of a play on the word “embody”. For each dancer I envisioned dance as if I were that person. Out of that embodiment, I had several motifs. For other dancers, two or three ideas evolved. So it depended on the dancer. And it was really fun to see people, to appreciate their beauty, and translate that into my body and translate it back to them. We’re pretty excited with what we came up with.

What are the differences between choreographing for yourself and choreographing for someone else? I know that you like to work from the inside out, which seems to lend itself more easily to the same person creating the choreography dancing it.
Not necessarily. Actually, solo choreography is very difficult because you have to face your own demons. If you’re choreographing for someone else, they need to trust in you as you create and shape it, and be very honest about themselves. It’s a slightly different process, but each of the processes has its challenges.

Did you choreograph the work on your own and then present it to the dancers, or were they involved in the choreographic process so that their own insides could come out, so to speak?
I worked in different ways with different dancers. For some dancers I presented the shapes that I felt and we altered them with how they worked for them. It’s a really hard process to talk about because it’s so intimate and intrinsic and there are certain things that are vulnerable and hard to describe. Some of it is like that. Others I would give ideas to and have them work with these ideas and shape the movement so they would have a body memory of it, in a kind of a very clear improvisational setup, but not vague, very clear. Improvisational method is very similar, but the end result is very different, because it’s very clear internally where I want that body shape to develop and you have to be very intuitive as a dancer and choreographer to shape it.
Not everybody wants to do this. I call it mature dancing. By mature, I don’t necessarily mean age, it’s a developed idea of how to create. It’s an idea of how to create that demands responsibility and vulnerability. It demands that your soul be involved in it. It takes a great deal of courage to be that honest and raw with yourself.

Is another group work something you might want to do again in the future?
I don’t know that my company would do it because I don’t have the administration for it. Get me the administration for it and I’ll do it! But I’ve been asked to do some more group work. Mikhail Baryshnikov asked me if there would be a male version. He’d be interested, which I thought was very sweet.

M.Body.7 plays at Place des Arts Friday, Feb. 29 and Saturday, March 1. For more information, call 514-842-2112.

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