Twelve dancers, clad in leg warmers, sweats, and baggy t-shirts, stand before him ready to begin. Tension and anticipation fill every limb to capacity. “Ready?” A dancer crosses herself. Ominous music fills the room and the dancers launch into quick-paced, heart-racing, intricate movement. “This is who we are, this is why we are here,” says Gillmer Duran in his Venezuelan accent. Duran is a dancer with the Eugene Ballet Company who is changing his focus from dance towards choreography.
He sits bolt upright in his folding chair at the front of the studio. Duran watches and feels his choreography come to life. His muscles tense along with the dancers; his ears hear the music with the same anticipation as the dancers. The room is filled with the sound of pointe-shoed foot falls, heavy breathing, and Duran’s encouragement, “elegant, elegant, nice.” Duran knows exactly what he wants. Each finger, each head movement has its place. Each breathe, each drop of sweat is important. It is at the Midtown Arts Center in Eugene, Oregon that Duran rehearses his dancers for the premier of his newest piece “Without the Cover.”
Duran, born in Venezuela, was introduced to dance through traditional Venezuelan folk dancing as a child. But in Venezuela there was an “if it’s not baseball, what are you doing?” attitude, Duran says. This mind-set; however, has not stopped him. “Once you start liking it,” Duran says “you never stop liking it.”
Duran, 37, is captivated by movement and is taking that captivation to the next level, from dancer to choreographer. His serious ballet training didn’t begin until he was 21-years-old. In an industry where dancers are primed for ballet at the age of four, it is a remarkable feat to accelerate as quickly has Duran has. “If you are a musician you can be a musician until you are 80 but when you are a dancer things are different,” Duran says. “For a lawyer, 37 is his prime,” but for a dancer this is not the case. But age is only a number; a small bump in Duran’s the road.
Before he was a dancer, Duran was a loan officer. Perhaps he caught the eye of the director of Ballet National de Caracas because he effortlessly stands, moves, and looks like a dancer. In Venezuela, Duran danced with Ballet National de Caracas. While in the United States with a tourist visa, Duran was hired by Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma. His unique path towards becoming a dancer has influenced his choreography greatly. “I have seen dance in many places,” Duran says. This is evidenced in hints of Venezuelan folk dance and contemporary movements he picked up in his early days of dance.
Duran’s latest piece, Without the Cover, premiered with Eugene Ballet Company’s Dark Side of the Moon on February 13 and spoke to his past and path towards becoming a dancer. Inspired by fellow Venezuelan Gabriela Montero’s interpretation of J.S Bach’s Spontaneous Compositions on Themes, Duran sought to explore the constraints we face in society and the pigeon holes we can be placed in, something that he is familiar with.
Throughout his piece, sheets of plastic hang in front of his dancers. They are covered by what society expects of them. As each movement progresses the curtains rise and the dancers can be seen clearly for who they are, without any distractions or distortions. Duran’s goal was to be as honest as possible, to be vulnerable while still displaying strength. “I am very fond of his ability to combine flow of movement with staccato and slightly quirky steps or moments,” says Jennifer Martin, principle dancer with the Eugene Ballet Company.
Without the Cover showed Duran’s understanding and firm grasp on human relationships and intricacies of human interaction. His understanding is directly imprinted on his dancers. “He is sensitive to the dancer’s abilities,” Martin says, “and yet has a gift for pushing us beyond our area of comfort and in turn helps us to expand and grow artistically.”
A choreographer’s ability to communicate and relate to his dancers is the greatest tool in his arsenal. When there is this connection, the choreographer’s ideas can come to fruition and then be related to the audience. Duran has this and it is evident in his rehearsals. “Horrible,” Duran says after they have finished running the piece, but the dancers don’t even bat an eye because horrible is quickly followed by “very nice.” He walks around the room to give corrections to the dancers. There is a playful quality to Duran’s rehearsal process – he refers to Martin as “Jenny from the block” – but there is also an honest quality to it as well – “it was all your fault” he says to one of his dancers to which she replies “ya, it was me.” This combination of playfulness and honesty allows the dancers to be themselves and be a part of Duran’s creativity. It is his love of music and movement that propels Duran to create and to share his explorations with dancers and audience members alike.