A Look at Shannon Gillen's Vim Vigor Dance Company in "Seperati"

A Look at Shannon Gillen's Vim Vigor Dance Company in "Seperati"
Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

By Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone
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Published on January 26, 2016
Photography of Vim Vigor Dance Company by Arnaud Falchier

As the Choreographer and Collaborators Prepare for Their Run at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center

Vim Vigor Dance Company in Seperati
Premiering January 28 and running through January 30, at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center
Choreography and direction: Shannon Gillen, in collaboration with the dancers
Performers: Jason Cianciulli, Martin Durov, Laja Field, Lavinia Vago and Emma Whiteley
Lighting design: Barbara Samuels /Music design: Martin Durov in collaboration with Shannon Gillen
Costume design: Joey Blaha / Set design: JC Machine and Tool Company


Whether they're tearing across the stage or standing with barely contained energy, the dancers of Vim Vigor move with a clarity of purpose that does justice to Shannon Gillen's taut, cinematic vision for Separati.

The company looks like they've been dancing together forever, though they've only been rehearsing since September. The fact that Gillen has been working with the ideas for Separati for nearly two years surely has something to do with the group's cohesion. “The dancers have very different backgrounds from each other, and I chose that on purpose,” Gillen says. “This is the first time I've really stepped out to become more of a director. I used to be afraid of losing my signature if I pulled back too much.”

Photography of Vim Vigor Dance Company by Arnaud Falchier

Separati is deeply rooted in time and place, with signifiers that set it during the 1970s, at a crossroads of some kind. A lone phone booth, and various bags and suitcases evoke the desolate emptiness of a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. The booth defines outside and inside, and provides what Gillen calls “a sense of precarious connection.” Indeed, it functions as a focal point for communication and action throughout the piece—and often seems sinister.

A rainstorm drives two characters inside the phone booth, seeking shelter. They quickly become entangled while another character staggers through the rain as if suddenly unburdened. The separate togetherness provided by the booth allows the three of them to share a moment of ecstatic wish-fulfillment.

Photography of Vim Vigor Dance Company by Arnaud Falchier

As the work progresses, the crossroads becomes more dream-like, with moments of gender fluidity, violence and hallucination. Gillen's childhood recollections of family roadtrips played a role in shaping the world that grows onstage. “I remember getting out of the car at gas stations, at four o'clock in the morning, and encountering people who would say things that were so out of line,” says Gillen. “It was a mid-way space. Your imagination is more alive at night.”

Photography of Vim Vigor Dance Company by Arnaud Falchier

The dancers have created characters they clearly want to live in for a while, and they're at their best during moments of full-throttle intensity—both speaking and moving. The partnering in Separati is particularly inventive. Gillen has worked to transform her floorwork-heavy technique into movement that can fly.  

The biggest success of Separati is in its obvious attention to dramaturgical detail. As a result, the work feels of a kind with plays like Waiting for Godot and Camino Real—stories about inertia and escape, and the thrill of awakening within a dream.


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