Here’s how you can tell someone is a dancer. You see the way they sit. You see the way they rise from that seated position. You see the way they move their arms, tucking back a piece of hair, or reaching for the coffee. It is a beautiful thing because in each movement, you see the grace the human body is capable of. And when they are not moving? Even when they are just sitting and they are quiet as the surface of a lake on a calm day? You still see the grace the human body is capable of.
All of this is to say that even without seeing Shannon Gillen dance, you know she’s a dancer. Gillen is also the director of Shannon Gillen + Guests, a contemporary dance company, whose performance this year at Triskelion Arts Center of A Colored Image of the Sun is emotionally compelling and takes the audience on a harrowing journey of life and death and rebirth. Gillen grew up in Columbia, Maryland in “a very culturally advanced, diverse community” and started formally studying dance at the age of four, which took her on the path to studying at Juilliard, a hugely intense, though ultimately rewarding, experience which left her somewhat at a loss when she graduated. Gillen tells us, “It’s like you emerge from this dark room after so many years. You wind up shell-shocked, the real world doesn’t make any sense.” Instead of getting swept up in a world that strictly revolved around dance, Gillen studied Rolfing and the Meisner technique and as a result, explored the emotional connections that happen when two bodies are close to one another. Gillen says this type of connection seems “obvious, but rarely happens” in dance, due to its somewhat meticulous nature, which can lead to a lack of spontaneity, or at least a lack of the appearance of it. Gillen’s choreography reflects these types of emotional connections but also focuses so strongly on the body and her own feeling of “being deeply inspired by what the body is capable of—those questions that live only in the body” that it transcends the things it references and achieves a sort of platonic ideal of intelligent and elevated movement. Much like it is easy to see with a glance that Shannon Gillen is a dancer, it is also easy to see that she is so much more, that she is also constantly looking for ways to respond to the “questions that live only in the body.” We are lucky to get to see her look for the answers.
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