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Behind the Scenes: Choreographer Travis D. Gatling

Ohio-based choreographer Travis D. Gatling spent two weeks this summer creating a new work co-commissioned by Ballet Theatre of Maryland and Full Circle Dance Company of Baltimore. Gatling’s joint rehearsals with two of Maryland’s most established dance companies, each with a different movement style and focus, created a creative crucible of artistic exchange. His new work will premiere October 28 at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts as part of the show "We Walk in Moonlight: A Collaboration in Movement, Myth, and Mystery." The Baltimore Dance Bulletin asked Gatling for his own thoughts about the experience.

BDB: What is it like to work as a choreographer with two such different companies? Were there adjustments or adaptations you had to make because of the dancers’ different training and approaches to movement?

TG: This was a challenging yet fun and exciting experience for me. At first, I thought I would have to work with two different movement vocabulary aesthetics. One would be more modern and contemporary, and one more ballet based. However, I decided to go into the process the way I usually do when working with any group of dancers. And what I discovered was that I had a room full of unique and talented dancers who were eager, and more importantly, curious. So, I just went for it! Here’s the movement! Here’s the idea behind it! What can you do with it? And both companies’ members met and exceeded my expectations. I was blown away.

BDB: The two companies had never worked together or even met each other. At first, they seemed a bit separate, almost shy with each other. How did you address that?

TG: One way I addressed this was to engage the dancers in a quick and straightforward icebreaker exercise. Before we started rehearsal, I asked them to introduce themselves and tell us at least one unique or quirky fact about themselves. I think this helped the dancers remember each other’s names and break down some of the social barriers and shyness that some of them had upon first meeting. Hearing some unique facts about the dancers was also fun and, in some cases, funny. Laughter is a great icebreaker.

BDB: What did the dancers from these two specific companies bring to the table?

TG: Although one company is primarily modern/contemporary-based and the other ballet-based, I noticed that each dancer brought their unique movement style. No two dancers were alike, which I love! However, one thing they had in common was a strong work ethic and willingness to explore movement ideas that might have been unfamiliar to them at first.

BDB: What can you tell us about the nature of and inspiration for the new work? Did your ideas change as you began working in the studio?

TG: I didn’t make a final decision about the nature of the work until a couple of days before our first rehearsal. I decided to start with the general idea of dreams and dreaming. From there, I did some basic research on the types of dreams we have. I started reading descriptions of dreams (lucid dreams, nightmares, daydreaming, prophetic dreams, etc.). From there, I immediately became drawn to how our bodies physically respond because of specific dreams—like falling, being startled, flying or floating, running, feeling trapped or paralyzed, and so on. These physical sensations helped me generate my movement vocabulary.

BDB: The rehearsal process took place in the home studios of both companies. Why was that important?

TG: In any collaborative project, I think it’s essential to the process for the participants to be in and work in the environments of all the artists involved. It gives us a chance to see, feel, and experience where and how other artists work and the benefits and challenges they face in their typic

al working environment.

BDB: Anything else you would like to share about this creative experience, your time in Maryland, or the two companies you worked with here?

TG: Since I usually only work with Full Circle when I visit Baltimore, it was an amazing experience to work with two different companies simultaneously. At first, I thought it would be a difficult task. This project and experience remind me that dance is a universal language we all share regardless of its type. Through the transformative nature of the art form, we celebrate human expression, our connections, our differences, and dance’s ability to move, challenge and inspire others.

Photos: Jana Kopelent-Rehak


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