Ballet Theatre of Maryland, based in Annapolis, is the state’s preeminent professional ballet company, performing classic story ballets as well as new contemporary ballet works. Full Circle Dance Company is Baltimore’s most established professional modern dance ensemble, known for its diversity and powerful engagement with social justice themes. Dancers from these very different companies are working together this summer on a new work created especially for them by Ohio-based choreographer Travis Gatling. Set to premiere October 28, it will be the centerpiece of a concert highlighting both of these leading Maryland dance companies at The Gordon Center.
Full Circle Artistic Director Donna L. Jacobs watched initial rehearsals in late June with growing excitement. “This collaboration sizzles,” she said. “Watching this talented group of dancers with different backgrounds come together is unprecedented and important—for us, for our community, and for our industry.” Ballet Theatre of Maryland Artistic Director Nicole Kelsch initiated this unique partnership. “I’m always looking for ways to create new experiences for the dancers and our audiences,” she said. “While that’s often done through collaboration with musicians or visual artists, it’s not often that two dance companies who typically perform very different types of movement come together to create something new and to perform with each other. The result is truly something special!” Gatling’s creative process is exploratory and experimental, bringing out the strengths of individual artists even as they form a cohesive community on the stage. The dancers, who vary by race, gender, age, body shape, and training style, each bring unique knowledge to the group, and they are relishing the opportunity to learn from each other. “Working among dancers with different approaches to movement and witnessing such tapestry of art is inspiring and groundbreaking,” said Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Isaac Martinez, whose sweeping movement style drew Gatling’s attention at the first rehearsal. Full Circle’s Shaela Davis, a powerhouse performer with lightning-fast turns, agreed, adding “We can all learn from the ways we move differently, take pieces of that knowledge, and apply it to our own bodies.” By the second rehearsal, the dancers were working seamlessly, helping each other master both a haunting sequence of nuanced gestures and a series of swirling, high-energy movements. Michael West, a Ballet Theatre of Maryland soloist, whose generous yet precise technique is highlighted in a solo, noted, “We can really feel the camaraderie and support for each other in this room.”
Gatling, who is professor of dance at Ohio University and who has choreographed for many companies, said of the collaboration, “These are amazing dancers. I appreciate their openness, their commitment, their vulnerability, and their patience through this artistic process.” His new work, as yet untitled, is related to dreams, waking, and sleep. Gatling himself had trouble sleeping after the first rehearsal. His mind was churning with images of the dancers and ideas for using their unusual combination of skills. “Without the dancers,” he said, “the ideas have nowhere to go. They are stuck in the choreographer’s head. These incredible dancers are literally bringing this work into being.”