Gibney: The Beating Heart

American modern dance companies have diminished considerably in recent years. For the few companies that have survived, leadership is at a crossroad. They can reinvent, or face irrelevance. In downtown New York, there is a small company that is emerging as a beacon of a sustainable, relevant, and radical model.

Gibney Dance Company (GDC) began in 1991, inhabiting one studio at 890 Broadway, under the direction of Gina Gibney. It is now one part of an expansive
organization. Gibney, as it was renamed last year, now inhabits 53,000 square feet and 23 studios, between its 890 and 280 Broadway spaces. Gibney has expanded its mission to offering open classes, curating and commissioning other artists, and Community Action work, the center’s social justice arm. GDC however remains the beating heart of the organization.

Amy Miller and Nigel Campbell
(photo by Scott Shaw)

Several years ago Gina Gibney handed the day-to-day company duties to Amy Miller and Nigel Campbell, as Co-Directors. “I am in awe of the many ways that
Amy and Nigel have built on Gibney’s history and continue to carry the company forward,” says Gibney. “They are both uniquely talented and skilled, and they often approach a challenge or opportunity from a different perspective, then land on an extraordinary resolution. That’s what makes their partnership work. Together, they’re unstoppable!”

Miller is a native Ohioan and former gymnast who went on to dance in Ohio Ballet and co-found GroundWorks DanceTheater where she and Gibney originally met. She can often be found whizzing from studio to conference room to even a school in the Bronx where she may lead a Community Action assembly. Though Miller’s schedule is jam-packed, she is a loyal colleague and mentor. Whether it’s coffee with a former student or making the trek to a Brooklyn theater to see a friend’s show, community-building is paramount to her ethos.

Campbell is the grounding yin to Miller’s speedy, Midwestern yang. Possessing self-assured moxie, the 32-year-old artist is refreshing in a field that often works from the unknown and abstract. Campbell partly attributes this sensibility to
growing up in the Bronx: Tenaciousness is part of a New Yorker’s DNA. His infectious, uproarious laughter can be recognized by anyone on the Gibney staff, reminding them that ‘dance is fun’ with a capital F.

Like the ambitious Miller, Campbell’s calendar is chockful. In addition to his full-time position at Gibney, he co-directs MOVE(NYC), a platform that gives New York City youth, training and mentoring opportunities to prime them for the country’s most prestigious dance institutions. Together, the directors have been instrumental in GDC’s growth, in becoming a creation-based repertory company. This season, there are six members, referred to as Artistic Associates, hailing from far-flung areas of the dance world. “As a cohort, we’re continuing to learn to find a shared language between all of the diverse aesthetics that we bring,” says Miller. “I love that we’re making a space where folks who’ve had very different sorts of experiences are coming together.”

One way they’ve endeavored to celebrate varied backgrounds and lineages is by inviting other choreographers in all stages of development to create world premieres, in addition to continuing to perform Gibney’s repertoire. GDC now commissions five choreographers a year — a number that they hope continues
to grow. “I always felt that Nigel and Amy were not only the directors, but they were also my collaborators,” says Chanel DaSilva, former Trey McIntyre dancer, on her experience of creating “Swept” in GDC’s EMERGE 2019 Season.

Beyond the studio and working with the likes of DaSilva, Bryan Arias, Adam
Barruch, Shamel Pitts, Bobbi Jene Smith, and Micaela Taylor, the company is involved in social and entrepreneurial initiatives. Artistic Associates are trained in the organization’s Community Action work, which includes leading movement workshops for survivors of intimate partner violence and facilitating Hands Are for Holding (HAFH) assemblies in middle and high schools. The assemblies, which address healthy relationship building, has reached over 25,000 New York City youth since 2014. Earlier this summer, company members spent a week
teaching the elements of HAFH to Colorado-based Ormao Dance Company, who will be sharing it with their own community this fall.

Artistic Associates also have the chance to put on their entrepreneurial hats in addition to their artistic and socially-minded ones. Each artist develops their own Advocacy Fellowship projects, which are aimed to serve the dance community. Current projects involve destigmatizing mental health issues in the field, building confidence through photography courses, and demystifying the choreographic process through modes of technology. Some fellowships, like
Campbell’s MOVE(NYC), have become stand-alone programs that serve beyond the Gibney community. “I believe that sharing artistry on stage is powerful beyond words, but creating and nurturing communities off stage is equally
important,” says Artistic Associate Leal Zielińska. “And whether it’s leading an assembly, a movement workshop or my own fellowship program, I’ve learned how to hold myself within a space, which has helped me to develop into the
artist I’ve truly strived to become,” adds Artistic Associate Zui Gomez.

Zui Gomez
(photo by Nir Arieli)

Community Action and fellowship work are far from auxiliary tasks for GDC. They are woven into the very fiber of the company’s daily artistic practice. “We have a holistic approach to our work as artists, activists, and entrepreneurs, and believe that all of that feeds back into each other,” says Campbell. “The social engagement aspect of our work and the awakening of our entrepreneurial selves feeds our artistry and technical capacity. The result is beautiful, well-rounded artists.” While GDC is an amalgamation of a namesake and repertory company, its commitment to social justice and entrepreneurship make it something that defies category. Its vast programming is a launching pad for the dance community at large. By being a nexus of opportunity, Gibney is paving the way for the future of dance with the goal that its unique model will one day be the standard versus the rarity.

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