Written for VOICE Magazine on September 23, 2016.
VIM VIGOR is a contemporary dance-theater company dedicated to creating and performing original works by Shannon Gillen, elevating and nurturing the professional lives of young dance artists, and to cultivating public interest in the dance-theater art form. VIM VIGOR Dance Company members are: choreographer Shannon Gillen, Jason Cianciulli, Rebecca Diab (apprentice), Martin Durov, Laja Field, and Emma Whiteley.
After a successful stint in Europe both as a dancer and choreographer, Shannon Gillen returned to New York City in 2014 to found Vim Vigor Dance Company. Since then, Vim Vigor has become known for both its physically demanding and highly theatrical style - creating a level of contemporary dance-theater that combines “heroic physicality, electric emotional life and cinematic imagery” (VIM VIGOR). In residency at the Lobero Theater through DANCEworks for the past three weeks, Gillen and her dancers have been fully steeped in the creation process of the brand newFUTURE/PERFECT, a work centered inside a narrative of a camping trip that shifts dramatically to allow for a mix of reality and surreal spaces. Inside a work both more acrobatic and more theatrical than most physical theater, the characters in FUTURE/PERFECT confront the paradox of hope and doubt and wrestle with the age-old assurance, “Someday you are going to understand.”
This work in particular is inspired by camping trips and its psychological effects on different people. Gillen says, “Camping on the East Coast is often abreak from life while camping on the West Coast seems more like being available to the idea of receiving a sign from the universe… [or] being open to the signs around them or not.” In FUTURE/PERFECT, this idea expands into a colossal adventure through an extreme supernatural encounter and hallucinations by each character as they navigate the aftermath of the encounter. Set between the late ‘70s and early ‘80s,FUTURE/PERFECT’s original soundscape evokes nostalgia for an earlier time with its pulsating synth and bass. One of the most remarkable things about Vim Vigor is that all of the collaborators - composer, lighting designer, and costume designer - have worked with Gillen through multiple seasons, allowing the entire creative team to come together as a “think tank” to keep potent the vision of the work. Every element of the performance meshes together to create an immersive experience around the choreography and physical theater.
In building an entirely new work in just three weeks, many challenges can arise. To further evoke the setting of the campsite, the entirety of the Lobero stage is covered in mulch: this provided some challenges in traction for some of the more physical elements of the work. Additionally, Gillen says a work of this scale usually takes about three months to create which allows for more time to wrestle with both movement and ideas in the studio. Through this accelerated process inside the theater itself, creation of material and progression through the narrative take precedence. The company will later take this piece back to New York and pull it apart, taking time to look at it again from a different perspective and give feedback on what they created.
Talking to Shannon Gillen, you can feel the energy and passion she has not only for her craft but also in expanding the dance audience. In the process of merging acrobatic contemporary dance with a theater space, Gillen says, “This kind of work gives audience members access to a rare experience of not needing a certain level of cultural acumen to fall headfirst into a production… It comes back to the person and connecting with the audience, figuring out what works best for the audience to create powerful image.” Through creating strong imagery and a storyline that can instantly bring the audience to the edge of their seat, Vim Vigor’s FUTURE/PERFECT bridges the gap between the moving, breathing, human past with a much less tangible, other-worldly future.