Dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis is renowned for her fearlessness, passion and curiosity. Since stepping onto the world stage over four decades ago, she has inspired dancers of all backgrounds through the force and purity of her very personal language and consuming desire to dance.
“When I was a kid you could not dance to silence or spoken word,” she recalls. Though her beginnings were in dance classes and gymnastics, her inspirations were the convention-shattering Vincent van Gogh and Janis Joplin. Through her relentless exploration of the wisdom of the body, primarily her own, she has redefined the meaning of dance and largely succeeded in being understood by her audience.
“One can dance to the music — on, under, over it, beside just the notes that make you happy or sad, to the human voice, to the quality of silence. You can let the notes happen and then dance —have a whole conversation with the quality of sound.”
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Through dance, Gillis says, the audience hears the music or text in different ways. “We think we don’t understand dance, but we all have bodies,” she says. “The body is part of the brain, which is not just sitting up in the head. It’s extended through our neuromuscular system, all over the body, in my opinion.”
It’s easy to understand Gillis’ affinity with the poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), whose poetry she and award-winning actress Elizabeth Parrish will perform at the Centaur Theatre on May 6-9. Though Dickinson’s life was marked by constraints, it is the sweeping spirituality of her inner world as expressed in her writing that Gillis and Parrish will evoke.
“I think some of her work is very passionate and revolutionary, as well as tender and intimate. She was not understood in her lifetime. What I love and find thrilling in this woman, who had such a restricted life, is that she was such a huge visionary and had such an open soul. She had a wide vista in her artistic life not available to her in her social life.”
She quotes Dickinson’s poem This Is My Letter to the World:
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me –
The simple News that Nature told –
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see –
For love of Her – Sweet – countrymen –
Judge tenderly – of Me
“For me, we are the hands that she cannot see, these many years later,” Gillis says.