DURHAM — DURHAM -- Gaspard Louis likens his choreography to abstract painting. The Haitian-born dancer, choreographer and director incorporates a distinct style of contemporary dance into his performances, where dancers move as if cogs in a larger mechanism and audience members find meaning on their own.
Louis' signature choreography will be showcased in a performance next weekend by his group, Gaspard & Dancers, to benefit children in Haiti. Money from the event will go to the St. Joseph Family, which runs homes, a school and a community and therapy center for boys and girls, many of whom had worked as child slaves. The performance will include four dances, two of which are world premieres.
Gaspard & Dancers' technique is influenced in the Pilobolus style, which includes extensive partnering, weight sharing, body contortions and gymnastic-like movement. The pieces performed Saturday and Sunday offer an ethereal combination of animalistic, sensual themes played out to instrumental music.
Louis, who performed internationally with Pilobolus Dance Theater for 10 years, said his shows offer the audience a chance to develop its own perspective on the meaning behind the dances. Creating movement to fit a pre-set story line can box in and stifle the choreography, he said.
"Sometimes there's a story, but it tends to be more abstract," he said. "I'd rather you who see the performance tell me what you see." It was natural for Louis to raise money for Haiti, which is still struggling a year after a devastating earthquake. Much of the money pledged to help the Haitian people has been held up in government bureaucracy, but smaller efforts like the Gaspard & Dancers performance can really make a difference, he said.
"The rubble is the same as it was a year ago," he said. "The money will reach the people quickly and effectively."
Performing a Gaspard & Dancers' piece requires a new dimension of focus and practice, different from any other style, said Robert Thurston-Lighty, 51, a dancer with the company.
The level of awareness and trust each dancer must have with the other dancers is particularly distinct; the way dancers use each other as props and weight-balances for their choreography is unlike any other type of dance, he said.
"I've been struck by how much it's like playing with equipment on a playground," he said. "One of the disciplines is finding the continuity, the flow; it transcends acrobatics, it's almost an exercise in hypnosis."
To help rebuild
Proceeds from the show will support the St. Joseph Family's rebuilding project. All of the organization's buildings were destroyed in the earthquake last year, so the group has undergone a multimillion-dollar fundraising effort to build housing, a school, community center and therapy center for their programs.
"You don't hear about [Haiti] much, so everybody thinks everything is back to normal," said Renee Dietrich, who works with the St. Joseph Family in Haiti. "Even normal in Haiti pre-earthquake was difficult, and post earthquake it's still impossible."
But at least the St. Joseph family has a plan and support for that plan from organizations such as Hearts with Haiti based in Raleigh and Duke's Haitian Student Alliance, which collaborated with Gaspard & Dancers on the performance.
"For most of Haiti there's no plans, there's no goal," Dietrich said. "We have a challenge in raising money, but at least we know where we need to go."
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