Live. Breathe. Dance.
In 2009, a group of dancers in crisp white apparel took the stage, dancing their hearts out and conveying their hopes, heartaches, and dreams onto the floor. Movement traveled through time like a joyous symphony filled with bursts of explosive and soul-stirring nodes. Each girl unique in spirit together formed a point of intersection that was undoubtedly, the love of dance.
Choreographer and artistic director Laurieann Gibson, the creator of this piece shown at the PULSE convention in New York, was visually present on the stage throughout the expression of the work. Every throw, turn, walk and kick, packed with earthquake shattering power was reminiscent of Gibson’s dance style as if she herself were there on the stage. If imagined hard enough, she could be seen in a studio, adorned in one of her signature tracksuits emoting to every note, beat, and sound while constructing this composition.
Gibson has come a long way from resourcefully made milk carton dressers and six-story walk-ups with “character” in Astoria, Queens. At the age of 17, native Torontonian Gibson left Canada’s Queen City to pursue dance training at the prestigious Ailey School in New York, a professional training program of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.
“I had this huge dream and jumped on a Greyhound bus to go study,” says Gibson. With only a wing and a prayer, Gibson held mind over matter and has propelled herself forward through life’s challenges and misconceptions up to this point.
“When I first moved to New York, it was incredibly overwhelming, and I was taking a chance at every turn. It was like the desire was stronger than the reality,” she stresses.
And the reality she was living was every mother’s worst nightmare. She was sharing a space with people she didn’t really know, living in an unfamiliar city, sleeping on a hardwood floor in a sleeping bag, and on top of that, being welcomed by roaches as unofficial roommates. Even so, the buoyant choreographer, who stands behind such movies as Alfie (starring Jude Law and Sienna Miller) and Honey (starring Jessica Alba), saw light of the situation, in not necessarily having it all, but having the one thing that made her efforts not seem in vain.
“I knew that there was going to be dance class in the morning at 9 a.m., and that was enough,” she says.
At an early age, Gibson’s mother took her to see an Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performance at what formerly was the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto, now the Sony Centre. She had already been dancing much of her life, but she says it was then that something went off in her mind. She saw a visual of likeness that had been foreign and inconspicuous to her as a young dancer, but suddenly became ever so clear.
“When I saw the company, something registered,” says Gibson. “They were predominantly African-American ballerinas. When I was in Toronto I was a ballerina, but, you don’t really notice anything because you’re a child and you’re innocent. You don’t notice that you’re a black girl doing Balanchine. So, when I saw the company, in my innocence, I saw a similarity.”
Furthermore, she was drawn to the passion and soulfulness of the company, which signified for her what she wanted to do professionally, and who she believed to be the best to enhance her craft as a genuine and gifted artist that would inevitably aid her in succeeding as a dancer.
Professionally and classically trained in ballet and modern dance techniques, her growth as a movement artist culminates into her unique and identifiable style. Her dance language is unrestrained and hard-hitting with fiery sharp movement. Precisely set, her choreography is the epitome of a place for everything, and anything in its place. Yet nothing is unintentional. Inspired by legendary icons such as Debbie Allen, Alvin Ailey, Gregory Hines and the Nicholas Brothers, their style and flair are her rhythmic muses.
“People like Gregory Hines and the Nicholas Brothers for some reason always touched my soul. Later as a choreographer, I found out why. In my choreography, I am very leg heavy,” she says.
“My work is very strong, rhythmic and quick. There’s nothing sensitive about my attack in the dance. There’s nothing questionable about how I enter the atmosphere or how I enter the story that I am attacking. Even in the subtle movement, internally, dancers are very strong. Even if we are in a private moment or standing still, internally there is a level of intensity that is going on that allows you to be that still. That’s my voice as a choreographer.”
Gibson’s background and training is the foundation of her choreography, however, with her more visible work with mainstream music artists, at large, her adeptness in dance styles can often be mistaken as curtailed.
“Artists are limited [in] the way dancers are not. It’s hard to educate people because they see one thing and think that that is all that you can do as a choreographer. Then they come take your class and they’re like ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be in this class,’” Gibson states.
This oversight might be a result of her time on MTV’s Making the Band. The VMA-winning choreographer came to the forefront on this reality music show that documented the formation of an all-girl singing group headed by music mogul, Sean Combs, also known as P. Diddy. Appearing as the headstrong choreographer, this ultimately began the war to end her biggest misconception.
“It was a Catch 22 because it was helping out with my visibility, but at the same time, putting me in a negative light,” she says.
Gibson is still working on demystifying the callous and vociferous character that reoccurs on the small screen. She defends this portrayal of herself by explaining that her artistic passion is constantly being misread as stubborn and tetchy, saying that if she was that difficult to work with, she wouldn’t be at the top of her game. Not discounting the criticism entirely, Gibson makes her own conclusions.
“They have created a perception of not me, but my gift and my art, and are intimidated because it is something that they cannot hone, control or dominate,” says Gibson. “I fight through all of this and let the art in me continue to produce.”
(Article continued on next page)