Dance theater has found a home in Brooklyn.
Founded in 2015, Vim Vigor bills itself as a dance theater company, not to be confounded with a contemporary company a la Alvin Ailey or Complexions.
The distinction is in the narrative, says artistic director Shannon Gillen.
“I think story, that’s nonlinear for sure, but story and people and conflict and resolution and hope and love and all of these things that are fundamental” are part of what differentiates dance theater from contemporary dance, she explains.
There’s a lot more acting involved, abstraction, even dialogue, and no prop too messy in Vim Vigor’s debut work, “Separati,” which premieres in DUMBO this weekend.
“I’m here to transport you, and I don’t have any agenda other than for you to fall in, have an experience that will hopefully shake you and then let go of you,” says Gillen. “I just think art can be transformational for people when they succumb and are inside of it.”
It’s difficult not to be at least a little shaken by “Separati.” Forceful, physical and often frantic are accurate descriptors for a piece in which the company’s five dancers tug you toward a palpable combination of worry and thrill while they chug beer and navigate volatile, mostly anonymous relationships. There’s fury in the partnering work: grabbing, throwing and hair pulling, certainly not akin to the tenderness of a classic contemporary pas de deux.
“I don’t shy away from violence because I feel like it’s a big part of the edge of experience,” Gillen says. “The edge of experience is defined by where violence meets its limit, which is sort of shying around the idea of death and playing with it.”
Gillen herself has a strong ballet background, and one in modern dance — she trained with Ballet Met in her teens and subsequently graduated from Juilliard — but she also separately honed her acting skills and counts German dancer/choreographers Pina Bausch and Sasha Waltz among her biggest inspirations.
“Separati” is different, in a good way, a foray into the dance-meets-play form of dance theater, still Gillen admits that Vim Vigor is a risky platform. The past few years have proved a bitter financial climate for dance companies on the whole — the celebrated, New York City-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet shuttered unexpectedly last spring, for instance — but that hasn’t stopped Gillen from taking a leap of faith.
“It definitely needs support,” says Gillen, who hopes the community will embrace dance theater, the art form she’s been cultivating for the last decade, waiting until it was ripe, waiting until people were ready to “step up and support it.”