Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the artistic director and choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.
Michelle Gibson is a choreographer, teacher and performing artist who you might have seen in such films as Interview With a Vampire, Ray, and Just My Luck. Or maybe you’ve taken one of her classes at the South Dallas Cultural Center. Or maybe you saw her choreography in the Dallas Children’s Theatre‘s production of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (which ran Sept. 17-18 at the Winspear Opera House).
Gibson originally choreographed the work in 2008, but she was called back in to re-stage it for 2011. In both instances, the play immediately called to her, as it represents the African myths and histories she so loves and personally relates to. And as a mother, the classical story’s embedded values and morals hit home. She found herself wanting to help the story not just for an audience, but also for her family, both on and off stage.
As the choreographer, Gibson found that creating the work was not just about the movement being movement, but also about it being true to African culture itself, and African traditions. As a mother, she wanted to create a movement vocabulary that children could relate to.
Her passion to educate her actors and her family came across as a passion for life when I spoke with her earlier this month:
Danielle Georgiou: How did you first get into dance?
Michelle Gibson: Oh wow, I could spend maybe a couple of hours on that one! But I’m a preacher’s daughter, a minister’s daughter, and being in church as a little girl, I was always a mover. I could never keep still! And my mother noticed that and she said, “Let’s try this dance thing.”
I’m from New Orleans, and the first dance school I went to was in a 67-year-old woman’s garage. No dance floor, just carpet and a revolving fan. We used chairs as a ballet barre. That was my first experience in dance.
D.G.: From there did you move on to a studio?
M.G.: Well, she was like a studio for me. But after that, I was accepted into the performing arts after-school program at the New Orleans Center for Performing Arts. I started in the fourth grade and I went all the way through middle school to high school. From there, I graduated from high school and went straight to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. After that, I was going to every intensive I could! I wanted to know it all. I went to Jacob’s Pillow, the American Dance Festival and the Bates Festival. I was exposed to so much of what dance really is for me.
I then went to college and received my BFA in Dance from Tulane University. And last month, I just finished my MFA in Dance from Duke University (whose program is through Hollins University and the American Dance Festival). I just finished my thesis, and that’s pretty much how it all happened.
D.G.: Well, congratulations on finishing your thesis. I know how hard that is! And what a relief it must be.
M.G.:Thank you! It’s like I can breathe just a little bit more again!
D.G.: When did you start choreographing?
M.G.: I’ve been choreographing since I was 14. I’ve always been a choreographer. And performer, that’s a blessing! I can say I was blessed with both of those talents.
D.G.: Were you always involved in theater productions? Or just dance? Maybe a combination of both?
M.G.: I think a combination of both. I teach Afro-Modern, which is a mixture of African Diasporas and modern techniques — Horton and a little Dunham. And sometimes I do this Afro-Funk thing, which mixes the Diasporas with hip-hop. I think any style of dance, for me, I can choreograph. I guess because I exposed myself to so much … musicals, contemporary works, community works …
D.G.: Right now, is Afro-Modern, Afro-Funk, your focus?
M.G.: That’s my style. That’s what I have ordained myself. It’s who I am, it’s what I do. It takes awhile for you find your funk, your style.
D.G.: I’m still trying to find mine.
M.G.: Let me tell you, it’s a process. For me, I’m doing this because it’s who I am. It keeps me tied to my ancestral history and keeps me connected to my art as an artist.
D.G.: You’re both an educator and artist – how do you manage to balance both roles?
M.G.: They have become one and the same for me. I’m lucky that I can do both, and that my career affords me to do both. But really, I’m just working.
You can catch Gibson at the South Dallas Cultural Center on Tuesday nights, when she teaches her Afr0-Modern technique at 7 p.m.