On July 21 and July 22 at 8 p.m. in Adair Dance Studio at the College, Gravity Optional Dance Company will present a preview of its upcoming appearance at the Dance Place in Washington, D.C. No tickets are required; a requested $5 donation will be accepted at the door and will help fund travel expenses for the company to perform in D.C. on July 29 at 8 p.m. and July 30 at 7 p.m. at the Dance Place.
Joan Gavaler, associate professor of theatre, speech and dance, and Denise Damon Wade, assistant professor of theatre, speech and dance, the company directors, will exhibit what the Washington Post referred to as their “endearing stage personas and appealing choreography.”
“Denise and I complement each other. We are not so divergent that when you put a choreography in one concert you think you’re seeing two different concerts, but we’re not so similar either. There is some variety when you look at our work together,” Gavaler says.
“Ours is primarily a contemporary company. The performers are all trained both in ballet and modern dance, but the choreography that Joan and I do is contemporary dance,” says Wade.
The performance revolves around the many aspects of human interaction. The piece “Nostalgia (Starry Night Again)” by Joan Gavaler has been presented by the International Dance Festival in New York City and by the National Dance Association, among others. “Translations,” a solo by Gavaler, was also presented recently at the American Dance Guild 50th Anniversary Festival.
“The piece ‘Generations’ includes old family photographs, and it’s about generations of women and the sharing of traditions that are ongoing. It’s a very human piece,” Wade says. “My solo piece, ‘Indiscretions,’ came out of experiences that I had while I was in New York, relationships and an expression of how experiences can affect you.”
“We’re also reconstructing a piece called ‘Sextet No.1 with Rests,’” Gavaler says. “It has to do with the human element showing up in the sense of geometry, mathematical and spatial relations—when, for example, you’re resting your head on someone’s lap—rather than in a sense of indulgence. It’s not that you’re someone that I know and I’m going to rest on you. It’s a form. And that happens to be very human, used a little more coolly, more abstractly.”
The piece “Grace” was commissioned for a memorial tribute to Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks and August Wilson at the College. It is choreographed and performed by Joan Gavaler and Leah Glenn, who will be joining the College’s faculty this fall.
“I’m very excited to be performing again. The performance is very athletic, aerobic and very challenging, depending upon the body shape and what you’re used to doing,” says Glenn.
The company also features Amanda Kinzer, a faculty member at Old Dominion University, and Katherine van den Heuvel, a dance teacher in Norfolk. “I enjoy performing instead of just teaching, I’m happy to be dancing again,” says van den Heuvel.
“I love working with Denise and Joan. I haven’t been able to work with Joan ever since I was a student here. It’s great to be able to choreograph and to work with people and dance, but to be able to perform myself is such a pleasure. I enjoy their very different movement styles. I’ve always enjoyed Joan’s kind of movement because it’s very basic and expressive. She can tell stories in a lyrical way,” says Melinda Hagaman, a William and Mary alumna and a teacher of physical education and dance.
Jenna Crockett (’06), who had a major in neuroscience and a minor in dance, agrees. “It’s wonderful to be a part of the dance company after seeing how they came together.”
“You get to know how different people discover movement. You have to overcome your fear of falling or injuring yourself as well,” says Meghan Cavanaugh, a rising William and Mary sophomore. Caitlin Garwood, a rising senior, says that she does not lose her excitement about dancing for the eight hours each week during which the rehearsals take place.
“The studio is a more informal setting, but we’ve got chairs set up for people who are not comfortable sitting on the floor. If someone wants to reserve a chair, we can do that,” Gavaler says.