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Orange County Register
by Laura Bleiberg

Online Blog Review
July 2007

If you don’t know the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood, you should. The castle-like, 1920 venue is nestled against a still-wild mountain across the 101 freeway from its more famous cousin, the Hollywood Bowl. The sight lines at the 1,241-seat Ford are not good, and the plastic chairs not so comfortable. Did I mention they have stacked parking? (But also free satellite parking and shuttle buses.) Still, it’s worth all that and the trek from Orange County just to soak up the Ford’s Eden atmosphere, with its verdant hillside as a backdrop and the rocky outcroppings surrounding the stage.

Operated by the L.A. County Arts Commission, the Ford has a noteworthy dance series (which Target underwrites) of world and contemporary dance. The first performance Friday featured a collaborative evening of new pieces from three Los Angeles post-modern dance choreographers, each of whom has generated some positive buzz for her work. The pretentious unifying title – “Unearthing Sleeping Beasts” – set off warning bells. But of the three dance-makers, Maria Gillespie is truly a talent so off we went to see her new piece, “The Splendor of Gretel.”

Gillespie holds back nothing, either as a performer or as a choreographer. Pixyish, with brown hair cut in bangs, this thirty-something looks like a kid. But not some demure or innocent girly girl. Gillespie reminds me of the tomboy who ends up with her hair tangled and her Sunday dress ripped because she was righting wrongs against the neighborhood bully with her fists. She exudes a feral energy. Her four dancers charged about with the same electricity (which is good way to tell that she’s a terrific director, too), and I was particularly drawn to dancers Noellie Bordelet and Kevin Williamson.

“The Splendor of Gretel” still needs work, but Gillespie has gone a long way toward crafting a mysterious and dark exploration of human frailty. Right now, the dance is too dependent on a metal sculpture on wheels (by artist Michael Behrens), which resembled a department store clothing rack. Gillespie and lighting designer Phil Shearer outfitted it with lights, and used it to illuminate the dancers. It also functioned as a kind of supernatural door to the “other side” of human nature. The dancers rode on it and whirled it recklessly about the stage – a nearly performance-ending accident was narrowly averted when it tipped over toward the end. Several dancers hung from it by their armpits, an eerie image, worthy of a horror film.

But it also restricted the dance’s narrative arc like a ball and chain, limiting it from journeying thematically and emotionally beyond the setting that Gillespie established at the start. I wanted the dancers set free from that hunk of metal – particularly because Gillespie has fashioned some breathtaking jumps, rolls and lunges for her group. They let it rip. The other hindrance was the musical soundscape, by the one-named composer Ginormous, which functioned independently rather than as a meshed component of a compelling dance.

But all was not lost. It had been a beautiful night, and Gillespie has crafted a piece of which she can be proud.

Los Angeles Times
By Sara Wolf

March 27 2004

Maria Gillespie: a fearless investigator

Two-time Lester Horton Award winner Maria Gillespie is a performer of endless surprise. Vaulting and careening across a stage one moment, hovering precariously on tiptoe the next, she abandons herself to gravity and impulse with an infectious delight.
In recent years, Gillespie has been translating this delight, and the physical volatility from which it arises, into a range of dances seen around town as part of various shared programs.

Corralled together at Highways Performance Space on Thursday in the young choreographer’s first show of her own work, "On the Way to Melting," Gillespie’s growing repertory demonstrates a capacious gift for idiosyncratic movement invention that showcases unpredictability (both emotional and physical) as it trades on the dramatic implications of kinetic extremes. Gillespie’s investigation of the expressive potential of pure movement is at heart resolutely modern, as is evident in "Chronic/vs. II." Formerly a trio but expanded (to its benefit) to a quartet, the dance traces the emotional contours of melancholy as Lillian Bitkoff, Ragen Carlile, Monica Gillette and Alesia Young alternately offer support or flail in isolated squares of light.

Whatever statement the piece attempts to make about women’s community, these dancers are no less strong standing alone. Indeed, as much as standouts Bitkoff and Young fumble to articulate what they’re feeling, we can’t help but trust that they’ll prevail, given the forceful gestural vocabulary they perform with such alacrity. As in the evening’s two duets, the women of "Chronic" ricochet between vulnerability and strength with razor-sharp shifts in intensity and intent.
Gillespie’s dances share unexpected twists and turns: Limbs extend into space only to snap and recoil, a poised suspension suddenly deflates, an expansive circular sweep of the leg resolves with a quick kick that sends a dancer sprawling on the floor.

Gillespie’s solo "Peak," one of two premieres on the program, courts such daring and awkwardness. The piece is an odd amalgam of humor and pathos, set to a teenage Wayne Newton warbling "Danke Schoen" and to a piece of delicate instrumentation by Arvo Pärt, but what it lacks in cohesion is made up for by Gillespie’s willingness to alternate lush moves with inelegant poses.

In "Prologue of an Altered Day," the other premiere, Gillespie and Gillette attract and repel each other in a series of partnering gambits that often wind the women into Gordian knots. Cantilevered weight-sharing signals emotional capitulation as well, as the pair face off in a roundelay of moves that signal hesitancy as much as need.

Patrick Damon Rago and the long, lithe Chris Stanley up the ante of deliciously risky partnering in the previously reviewed "Sync Through, Revel Two," a classic duet exploring "masculine" and "feminine" movement that has fast become an audience favorite. The challenge now facing Gillespie is to build a troupe as fearless as she is. With Bitkoff, Young, Rago and Stanley, she’s off to a good start. Additionally, Carlos Rodriquez adds much to the previously reviewed "The Shape of Interruption," a humorous quartet of misguided passions set to a medley of tango music.

Eye Spy LA
by Kelly Hargraves

online blog review
July, 2007

"The Splendor of Gretel"… does resemble Gillespie’s amazing work with the body in motion—a relaxed, intricate, luscious movement that blows itself across the stage in an almost vicious attack of space. It’s purely evocative and ephemeral…glimpses of emotion seen in a certain bend of the elbow as the body collapses to the ground.

The sculptural design’s surfaces, as it wheels across the stage, provides a framing device, as passageway, as a tunnel into the unknown.

The movement is so fabulous, you want to see it in a bright spotlight, not in darkness and shadows, but Gillespie travels the underground shadowy surfaces of things and reveals a dark edge—an underlying anger that seems to play out between the males and the females and then between the dancers bodies and the stage surface.”


Los Angeles Times Calendar

By Victoria Looseleaf
Thursday, January 22, 2004


Rocking the house
L.A. is becoming the epicenter of 21 st century dance, thanks to a new wave of young talent.

Five who are raising the barre… Maria Gillespie
Her dancing can veer from swift and hummingbird-like to meltingly graceful in a heartbeat. Since relocating from New York to Los Angeles in 1996, the petite, 32-year-old Gillespie has been making a name for herself in modern dance as a performer, choreographer and teacher. Last year, she received two Lester Horton Dance Awards for individual and small ensemble performance for her work in Victoria Marks’ “Against Ending.” As a member of Helios Dance Theater, she electrified audiences at the Ford Amphitheatre last summer in Laura Gorenstein Miller’s “The Quickening. As choreographer, she often celebrates the body through elongated stretches and sculptural poses. Next month, Gillespie, who teaches modern dance at UCLA, will appear in a faculty festival at the university’s Kinross Building, and in March she’ll present a solo evening at Highways.

Los Angeles Times

By Victoria Looseleaf
Special to The Times
February 8 2003

New, inspired works by choreography duo

Highways Performance Space played host to an auspicious pairing of choreographers Thursday in an evening of nine mostly new works under the banner "Left, Chronic, and Other Dances." Maria Gillespie is visceral; Carmela Hermann, cerebral. Both brim with a playful, yet profound, sense of the body in motion.
In Gillespie’s premiere, "Chronic" — a triptych of solos set to Max Duncan’s original, Hendrix-like guitar groanings (on tape) — Lillian Bitkoff, Holly Rothschild and Alesia Young could have been the three Graces — in hell. Exploding with aggressive hopping, skittering and lunging, the piece, which with the other works repeats tonight at the Santa Monica venue, was a malleable sculpture in which beauty reigned in partnering. Gillespie’s new solo, "Occiput, Gall Bladder, and Tibia," had the choreographer in a frisky mode, thoroughly enjoying a backward sliding gambit.
With "Sync Through, Revel Two," another Gillespie premiere, signature leaps and elongated stretches took on a kind of religious fervor as stunningly danced by Chris Stanley and Johnny Tu.

Los Angeles Times

By Chris Pasles
June 29, 2003

Strong steps forward

An excerpt … “Just about every one of the seven choreographers in the fourth annual Dance Moving Forward Festival, produced by Arianne MacBean, presented strong work Thursday at the Electric Lodge in Venice.
Maria Gillespie proved to be the Twyla Tharp of tango in her consistently inventive and witty "The Shape of Interruption, Version I," with herself and Lillian Bitkoff, Todd McQuade and Chris Stanley soloing and pairingoff in various configurations yet inevitably interfering with one another’s designs and plans.”

Los Angeles Times
By Victoria Looseleaf

Monday, August 6, 2001

Two of Helios’ Members Step Out on Their Own
Dancer-choreographer Maria Gillespie proves charismatic in a program with Paula Present.

Helios Dance Theater has been cited for creating works of power and whimsy. Two Helios dancer-choreographers— Maria Gillespie and Paula Present—struck out on their own Saturday at Electric Lodge in “Busy Being Born,” an eight-part program that announced a charismatic talent in Gillespie. She’s a mighty performer, and her fluid line, determined attitude and distinct vision proved beguiling.
In two solos, “Hover” (an improvisation to Bridget Convey’s live piano tinklings) and “Wakatta/coming in clear” (to a collage tape track), Gillespie displayed a fierce, supple presence—a firebrand whose richness of movement captivated, even while leisurely walking.

Gillespie’s “Merge,” a duet for company members Diana Mehoudar and Shelley Wilcox, pitted them against each other in a kind of terpsichorean cat fight: A haughty Mehoudar, dancing with crisp classicism accentuated by beautiful extensions to Albinoni’s “Adagio,” contrasted to the comedic moves of Wilcox (think a sprightly Jerry Lewis), who assayed stylized pratfalls to the music of Handel.
Another Gillespie duet, “to want to have to hold,” paired her with Present in an energetic mating dance set to jazz music. This opus amplified a lyric fearlessness, as the couple exhibited lifts and balancing feats, with an ultimate sweetness prevailing.



Los Angeles Times
By Lewis Segal

Monday, January 14, 2002

Artists Pull Audience Into Their World
‘Festival of Solos and Duets’ showcases energetic and highly personal works from local talents, turning emotions from joy to fear into enigmatic movement.

… Maria Gillespie, however, danced with increasingly fractured and flung-out desperation as voices bombarded her in “Wakatta/coming in clear,” the evenings most punishing solo and another testament to a woman’s bravery under fire…


Glendale News Press
By Joyce Rudolph


Spinning words into movement

Perched on a folding chair, the dancer twisted herself in and out of a pretzel shape, then kicked her legs outward, allowing the brilliant pink skirt to whip around her thighs. The expression on her face changed from playful to seductive, then back to playful.
The dance piece was "Peak," a solo choreographed and danced by Maria Gillespie, artistic director of Oni Dance. Her company kicked off the Associates of Brand Library 2005 Dance Series Sunday in the Brand Library Art Galleries. Inspiration for the choreography came from the poem "Song for a Red Nightgown" by Anne Sexton. The dance is a meditation on sensuality and relates to a woman’s life when she is at her peak. "I read the poem, and it impacted my life, and I have read it for years," she said. "It touched me. The images from the poem were potent enough to make me want to investigate them in the dance-making process." To make it more playful, the dance is done to Wayne Newton’s "Danka Schoen" and Erik Satie’s "Gnossienne #1." "Peak" was one of five contemporary pieces in the performance, which was followed by a question-and-answer period.

"Over the past five years, most of my work has been performed on the Westside of Los Angeles," she said. "I want to broaden my exposure to a new audience." In January, Gillespie was selected by Dance Magazine as one of the dance artists for 2005’s "Top 25 to Watch." The dancers in her company were part of a touring group that went to Japan during the summer. When they returned, she decided these individuals worked so well together, she formally created the company. In honor of the inspirational trip to Japan, she named the company Oni after a character from Japanese mythology, which is a symbol of transforming human weaknesses into beauty and courage. It depicts her goal to become a thriving company, she said. Benita Bike, a member of the Brand Associates, and former dance coordinator for this series, called Gillespie an extraordinary performer.
"She uses the release technique, a style of dancing that came from the Jose Limon dance company," Bike said. "It has a very flowing, breathy and breezy feel to the movement. [Gillespie] is a fine example of a dancer who works in that technique."




“…one of LA’s
most respected artists...”

(Laura Bleighberg,
New York Times)



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