Floating world

Margie Gillis gets a grip on her art


VOYAGES FROM THE INTERIOR created and performed by Margie Gillis, August 8 at 8 pm. Baillie Theatre. $40. Rating: NNNNN


Toronto photographer cylla von Tiedemann once took a photograph of modern dancer Margie Gillis dressed in a billowing black skirt, standing on her toes, hair flying heavenward. Like that photograph, Gillis often stands at the centre of a creative storm, anchored – sometimes only barely – by her faith in her process.

Voyages From The Interior, Gillis’s most recent collection of dances, officially opens the renamed Toronto International Dance Festival. It’s an opportunity for Gillis to once again explore the things that make her move: love, belonging and vulnerability.

Gillis has always expressed her inner life through dance. Speaking on the phone as she waits for a flight from her home base in Montreal to the U.S., she describes working from the inside out, a vigorous mental and physical process she chose to pursue through solo work rather than with a large company. Like method acting, it’s not for everyone.

“When I started out I knew I could take care of myself in this process, but I didn’t think I could take care of others,” she says. Art can be therapeutic, she concedes, but it ain’t therapy, and with an emotionally taxing process like hers, that distinction is important.

These days, Gillis teaches dance through her Montreal-based foundation. In these workshops, she develops games for her students to draw them out of their comfort zone and into a place where being slightly off balance can be a good thing.

And when that fails, there’s always getting really anchored for instance, by rocks.

“I’m loving going out to nature,” she says, her voice sounding more girlish than her 50-something years. “Something that’s really helped me understand the aging process is spending time with rocks. Moving rocks around the planet, water on rock, large pebbles, things that run through the stone, how they weather time how cool is all that?”

Rocks or no, her grip on those inner resources sometimes falters not surprising for someone who continuously pillages her vulnerabilities for material. Gillis, whose teaching often leads her to New Age art meccas like BC’s Hollyhock retreat centre, sometimes blames the cosmos for her dry spells.

She attributes one such block in the late 80s to Berlin. “All the creativity was focused there,” she sighs. When the Wall later fell, her creative floodgates miraculously reopened.

The thing that really keeps Gillis grounded and inspired is her judgment, which to some might seem a barrier to creativity.

“Judgment can be good,” she says cryptically, “because you can be discerning.”

This circular reasoning is about as far as she’ll go toward admitting that even the most intangible interior journey can only be performed with both feet well, at least one anyway firmly on the ground.

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