Shannon Gillen is a powerful, indomitable new voice in the contemporary dance world. A graduate of both The Juilliard School and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Gillen forged a prolific international career as a choreographer and performer. After dancing with the prestigious Johannes Wieland Company at the Staatstheater Kassel in Germany, Gillen returned to the US with a renewed focus to found her own dance theater company, VIM VIGOR, in 2015.
After an initial meeting with Gillen, who said she immediately felt a “very true kinship” with NJDTE, Turano invited her to become NJDTE’s inaugural AiR® (Artist-in-Residence) Program choreographer in September 2015. “Having Nancy believe in what I’m trying to build was almost as important as having the space,” Gillen said.
“It was a blessing because it came at such a pivotal moment for me. I’ve been making work for ten years, and this is the first time I’ve wanted to build something that was not only sustainable but also something that has a value that I hope for in the dance world: a full-time working week, with world-class dancers that can immerse themselves in content and grow together.”
For her part of the AiR® Program exchange, Gillen created a new work for NJDTE’s Ensemble Company, ARDOR, that will premiere at NJDTE’s spring repertory performance, i Balli di Primavera!, on Saturday, April 16 at Memorial Auditorium at Montclair State University. In working with the NJDTE dancers, her goal was to “meet them where they are right now" as developing dance artists, but also to introduce them to a new movement language of floorwork and partnering. In doing so, she allowed the dancers to access “bigger, bolder, more explosive, robust personas” as a true ensemble of performers.
"The kind of student that Nancy is building is hungry and curious and capable of things they’ve never done. They are both wildly disciplined and also playful, which is the other important part."
For Gillen, having the same space hold both creative processes for SEPARATI and ARDOR was “lovely. It’s a very different process working with young people and established dancers. SEPARATI is the opposite animal [of ARDOR]. Instead of empowering the dancers, I’m pulling back the layers so they’re vulnerable on stage, so there’s nowhere to hide.”
A fierce advocate of authenticity and honest commitment to the craft and art of dance, Gillen encourages young dancers to, as she says, “play the long game."
"The beauty of dance is that it promises to always challenge you no matter what and encourages you - if you leave yourself open to it - to grow and change and learn new things and forget old habits and discover something new about yourself. It’s an ongoing process that - if you’re paying attention - gives you permission to be mutable and not always stuck in one place. It’s about developing expertise in being an amateur. It’s not about the payoff or the celebrity. It’s ‘I want this to be my life.’ How can you be creatively living?”
“I’m very fond of Summit and my experience there. Hopefully it's the first of many! It’s about building and sustaining relationships with people who share your values and believe in dance as an integral part of our culture. And Nancy gets it. With NJDTE, she has created a home for dancers who are going to go on to have careers and she exposes them to the contemporary work that’s out there right now – not just in New York but also in Europe."