Seven years ago, choreographer Andrea Miller felt so restless she wanted to jump out of her skin. She was still dancing with other companies and performing other artists’ work, but her mind was abuzz with ideas and Miller says she couldn’t wait to get busy creating dances of her own.
“I had a huge amount of movement stuck in my body that was ready to burst out,” she says.
That movement soon found an outlet in “I Can See Myself in Your Pupil,” which, in a reduced version known as “Pupil Suite,” will make up half the program that Miller’s edgy company, Gallim Dance, presents on Friday at the Stockton Performing Arts Center in Galloway Township. Set to a rollicking score by the Israeli world-music group Balkan Beat Box (with some Maria Callas thrown in), “Pupil Suite” “is very high-energy and high physicality,” the choreographer says. “It’s also very joyful.”
Miller founded Gallim Dance in 2007; and the troupe quickly pushed its way to the forefront of New York’s contemporary dance scene, where it now shares the spotlight with a handful of up-and-comers. Gallim Dance has its own studio in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood. The company tours Europe; and Miller snags prestigious commissions like the one that Peak Performances in Montclair offered her two years ago. Next stop is the Joyce Theater, where Miller is booked to present a new work in December. Then, in the spring, Gallim Dance will be featured in Miller’s staging of “Carmina Burana,” a spectacle backed by a 150-member chorus.
In the meantime, the company has been making the most of a two-week residency at Stockton University, where Miller has set a piece on college dance students and is branching out by offering a theatrical lighting workshop and teaching dance to seniors and aspiring writers.
“It’s a very creative approach to residencies, in which we engage with more of the community at the university than just the dance department,” Miller says, pleased.
The grand finale will be the performance where, in addition to that old favorite, “Pupil Suite,” Miller’s company will perform her 2013 work “Spill.” The point of combining these pieces is to show how her work has evolved.
Miller says she worries that audiences today don’t have the tools to understand modern dance, with its emphasis on pure forms and abstraction. Even a piece like “Pupil Suite,” despite its boisterous energy, may be too abstract for the generation accustomed to watching reality TV and kitty videos on YouTube.
“We have to evolve, and stop making dances for dance audiences,” Miller says provocatively.
As a result, her newer work, “Spill,” is more theatrical and hints at narrative. The dance offers a pocket-history of the cosmos, in which particles moving randomly through space begin to cohere into recognizable shapes. Boundaries appear. Societies form. And the “first man” meets the “first woman,” only to screw things up so badly that humanity tumbles backward into chaos and irrelevance.
Though Miller’s style is contemporary, this Juilliard graduate has a thorough grounding in the history of her art; and in this context it may be useful to remember the late choreographer Doris Humphrey, lambasting humanity’s self-destructive tendencies in her satirical dance of 1946, “The Story of Mankind.” When The End comes, no one will be able to say our modern dancers didn’t warn us.
“I’m definitely always very impacted by what’s happening around us,” Miller says, mentioning that her husband is a political theorist. “Politics are a big part of my family.”
While Miller wants viewers to see how far she’s come, and where she might be going, she also notes that “Pupil Suite” and “Spill” share those qualities that have come to define her work.
“The things that stay the same are this commitment to physicality and exploration,” she says. “How far can we take the body, and the expressivity of the body? That’s maintained. And then, I think there is a sense of humor, and engagement with the audience.”
For tickets to Friday’s show, visit stockton pac.org.
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