"MY FRIENDS ALWAYS say to me: 'You run up the walls like it's normal,'" says choreographer Gerry Girouard. "You might call it experimental dance, because I don't know what else to call it. I've been doing it for so long that it doesn't seem experimental to me."
Girouard's vision of normality, currently demonstrated in the collaboration Gravity Games: Analog Bodies Surfing a Digital World at Red Eye, exists in willful defiance of Newtonian laws of motion. Five dancers inhabit a large steel frame, visible through Plexiglas windows, and steadfastly refuse to keep their feet on the floor. They pole-vault themselves onto the walls, or turn themselves upside down, shifting direction without warning as they support themselves by balancing on their heads. "I think of their movement in two ways," Girouard says. "First, I imagine taking a jar that is half filled with water and jostling it around. The water is colored, so you can see its movement in the jar. Secondly, I imagine throwing a Ping-Pong ball into a closet and watching it as it rebounds off all sorts of walls and shelves."
In Gravity Games, Girouard's choreography takes place in a dense, multimedia environment, including projected video designed by Stephen Rueff. At times, sonograms of beating human hearts are projected directly on top of the dancers. At other times live video feeds of the performances, viewed from wild angles, appear on a scrim behind the dancers. Girouard has also collaborated with composer Manjunan Gnanaratnam for this project. The Sri Lankan-born Gnanaratnam provides a soundtrack that opens with a traditional Hindu song, played on tabla and sitar. "But the performance," Girouard adds, "includes a wide variety of music: angry, gibbering sounds; ocean sounds; klezmerish piano (Gnanaratnam often writes in a minor key); [and] world-beat techno."
As disparate as these elements might be, Girouard cautions that they all serve to create a single artistic statement. "The intention was more than just to make an abstract dance," he says. "There's a drama behind what is happening. The performance starts as contentious: People jab at each other with poles and knock each other to the ground. By the end of the evening, though, it has become joyous, with people flying off the walls."
Girouard has been defying gravity like this for a decade, which seems natural for a choreographer who came to dance with a background in gymnastics. When he began dancing with Minneapolis's Nancy Hauser Dance Company in 1983, his previous education in dance consisted of what Girouard concedes was "nothing." Despite this, he took to dancing immediately ("This was my home," he says), and stayed with the company for eight years, joining them on tours of Japan and China.
He first began developing his unique style of choreography ten years ago, in a workshop led by Beverly Blossom, who is known for her quirky movement. Girouard did a dance in which he impersonated a spider by doing handstands on the wall. "Wow, that's really beautiful," Girouard recalls Blossom telling him. "I like what you are doing on the walls."
Girouard has remained on the walls ever since, but he is quick to point out that he uses acrobatic choreography "to heighten the statement the dance is making, not to be the statement."
Girouard dances in Gravity Games, and he is the only performer with a formal background in gymnastics. "I would tell the others to pole-vault onto the wall, and then stick there, and then slowly slide down to the floor, and then flip over in the air," Girouard says. "They were happy to try it. I am blessed with adventurous dancers."