It was at Juilliard where choreographer and founder of Gallim Dance, Andrea Miller, started, as she says, "really getting excited about the living art of dance." Miller comes to Charleston this weekend with W H A LE, a modern dance performance as alive as any we've seen, at least in the brief spurts and shouts we've witnessed. Go ahead, join us for some visual context. Google: Andrea Miller, W H A L E. See dancers in mid-flight in their underwear, a naked man running across stage, a group of dancers, collapsed, in front of plastic folding chairs.
This is W H A L E: a virile display of what it means to be alive. "It's so defined by the performers' experience," says Miller of W H A L E. It's also, naturally, defined by Miller's choreography. "My personal influences come from visual arts, film, and literature," she says. They also come from dance, including the movement language found in a number of Spoleto productions this year — Gaga. Miller danced and studied with Ohad Naharin, founder of the Gaga technique, with Ensemble Batsheva in the early 2000s.
The physicality of Gaga is evident in W H A L E, if only in the clips we've seen. "There's a base technical level that's very advanced," says Miller of W H A L E. "It's very physically demanding."
Beyond the physical aspect of W H A L E, though, is the emotional one. This show is about human relationships, after all — "the human pursuit of love and being loved." And yes, quite literally, the dancers get down to their skivvies, and then some (PSA: this show includes nudity), so it's hard to imagine the dancers not getting a little emotionally attached to the movement, and perhaps even to their fellow dancers. "It's something very authentic, vulnerable, and revealing," says Miller. "The dancers are sharing a lot of who they are, which is a lot of what the work is trying to express."
Miller, a dancer herself, understands the thin line between creating and directing a performance, and dancing within it; she respects the level of dedication her dancers show in W H A L E. "They are curious and interested in the creative process. They don't just say, 'Give me the steps,'" says Miller. This creative process, and the resulting performance, has inevitably taken on different forms since its debut in 2015.
It has certainly taken on a new form for Miller, who welcomed her second child in 2015, after her first was born in 2013. "It was a huge shift in my life as a person, and as a partner to somebody," says Miller of motherhood. "You think about your understanding about love, anxieties, aspirations for what love will and can be."
W H A L E, then, means something personal to Miller — it is the work she created as the mother of two children. Beyond that, though, she hopes that this performance will continue to live on. "All the audiences are connected to the themes and moved by them," she says. As for that nudity? Well, buckle up prudish pants, because this is art, after all.
"Nudity is something that can always affect you in different ways," says Miller. She insists that the nudity in W H A L E is not sexual, but rather, about two kinds of themes in the performance. "The dancers are very vulnerable, almost like a baby. And then there's a feeling of freedom — there's nothing stopping you from loving yourself," she says.
And while Miller calls her choreography a "radical approach," she doesn't intentionally create political work. "I'm always asking myself, 'What is the best use of my time?'" she says. "It's really important in these times that are so uncertain that we stay awake as emotional beings."
Gallim Dance offers a master class on Sat. June 10 at 11 a.m. Learn more at spoletousa.org.