Stepping into the studio with award-winning choreographer and dancer Gwen Welliver,one can hear verbal prompts to “line, fold, rotate,” or “line, fold, chunk,” or even “line, fold, creature.” As a professor at Florida State University’s School of Dance, students shape themselves around these improvisational structures. For Welliver, these ideas are at the core of her pedagogy and choreographies, bearing traces of her many post-modern and contemporary dance lineages.
One movement might contain a heavier feeling in the torso — remnants of her 10 years dancing with Doug Varone and Dancers—whereas a sweep of the leg or arm with a “pendular” momentum might reveal her seven years as rehearsal director for the late Trisha Brown’s repertory. Welliver considers her time with these notable figureheads to be apprenticeships of sorts because their influences materialize during unexpected moments. Embarking on her MFA research at Bennington College in 2007 launched a decade of dense dance-making, which now includes a commission by the Martha Graham Dance Company that will premiere as part of Opening Nights in the Nancy Smith Fichter Dance Theatre. The studio remains her creative laboratory however where she works through ideas alongside both students and collaborators.
“It starts without totally knowing or having any image or story in mind except for a series of exercises that I often start with to generate material,” explains Welliver, who allows exciting developments from previous prompts to inspire her. “We’ll often start with simple physical tasks like making lines in the body, folds in the body, rotations in the skeleton. I might not be interested in anything for a long time, but then something will show up and I keep it as a chunk of material and continue building.”
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