New York-based choreographer Gina Gibney is a modern woman. Modern in the primal, big-bang sense of modernity that produced such dance titans as Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Martha Graham. While these visionaries successfully recalibrated and liberated notions of the body, they also energized social dynamics—giving women an alternative to fainting couches and middle-class, parlor-room lethargy. Like her forebears, Gibney finds in dance the proper set of incendiary devices to fuel life change, ignite new perspectives on women's roles, and hotwire the visual spectacle of live art.
Integral to her work as a choreographer are her workshops with domestic-abuse survivors and families and individuals with HIV/AIDS. In conducting this facet of her work, Gibney harnesses the fierce focus of early 20th century modern-dance revolutionaries—giving participants powerful tools rooted in trust and physical awareness.
Reconciling art and community needn't be a struggle, but creating dance that taps into our common humanity, expresses a more broadband social dimension and maintains a high level of artistic innovation is a balancing act. Gibney, who's been creating evening-length dances with her company since 1991, is one of a handful of choreographers committed to an equal-time aesthetic between the world of art and the world as we know it. Like contemporaries Bill T. Jones and Liz Lerman, Gibney extends the notion of dance-making through a process that nurtures community voices. This might mean collecting survival stories, having non-dancers executing everyday movement in a new light or simply teaching people to trust a stranger.
With its set of diaphanous white tulle and gauzy, fluttering costumes, unbounded, Gina Gibney Dance's evening-length work, has faint Duncan-esque echoes. The work for five female dancers is as multilayered in its choreography as it is richly textured in its set pieces. Quietly turbulent, the work hums with elegance and a collaborative pulse. The dancers ride a delicate tension between comfort and confrontation.
Like the best of her postmodern contemporaries, Gibney ably mines extremes (stillness/frenzy or the tender/tumultuous) and excels when she invests narratives with simmering intensity and risk. Compelling and beautiful, stark and unnerving, the piece's convulsive poetry of fabric and fluid movement succeeds in presenting struggle, survival, transformation and rebirth in the most simple of metaphors: the chrysalis—restraint giving way to winged revolution. It's in moments like this that you see Gibney's interwoven vision of art and life coalesce.
White Bird presents Gina Gibney Dance's
at Portland State University, Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave. 245-1600, ext. 201. 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 11-13. $25 adults ($14 students with ID & seniors).