The Real Story: “Flickers” by Choreographer Marinda Davis for Giordano Dance Chicago
There is something incredibly satisfying and elusive about life coming full circle, and for Marinda, this experience with Giordano Dance Chicago was just that.
Marinda Davis is a phenomenal choreographer who continues to fight against phenomenal odds. This past May, Marinda shared her story on the CW’s My Last Days, which detailed her battle against a series of diseases that compromise her health and how dance has played a major role in fueling her resilience and healing. We are humbled and send our heartfelt love as she continues to fight for her health, but here we choose to focus on the light she brings to our world through choreography.
Marinda’s journey through dance started at age 2. Through her youth and teenage years, Marinda made life-changing connections with world renowned choreographers through the dance convention circuit. Upon relocating to New York to complete her BA in Dance (with a minor in Musical Theater) at Marymount Manhattan College, she furthered her dance training at Broadway Dance Center with mentor Sheila Barker. Along the way Marinda’s professional career developed, and she earned her place dancing alongside music icons such as Sting. In 2009, Marinda founded her company, marinspired, and the very next year was recognized by Dance.com as a Top 10 Young American Choreographer 25 & Under. 2012 saw Marinda and marinspired sell out a run of their first full-length production, Breakable, at the Salvatore Capezio Theater. In 2015, she placed 2nd at the Capezio ACE Awards receiving funding to produce her company, marInspired; the storytellers second full length show, “UNbreakable”. In 2016 they premiered at the El Portal in Hollywood and in 2017 they brought “UNbreakable” to New York’s Symphony Space.
In more recent years, Marinda has had her company and choreography featured on NBC’s World of Dance and has taken a dive into the commercial side of the art form. Through the years, she never forgot about the connection she made as a dance convention assistant to the legendary Gus Giordano, and now has the opportunity to choreograph on the legacy company that he left behind. There is something incredibly satisfying and elusive about life coming full circle, and for Marinda, this experience with Giordano Dance Chicago was just that.
DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera caught up with Marinda to learn more about how she formed her relationship with the company, as well as the creative process behind her work for GDC, titled “Flickers.” Here’s what she told us:
Anytime I was eager for something to happen Gus would say, “All things in due time my dear.” He was right; it all happened when it was supposed to.
Kristi: Your relationship with Giordano Dance Chicago began nearly twenty years ago when you took a dance class with founder, Gus Giordano. Since that time, you have been on a whirlwind journey through life and an ever-growing choreographic career that has led to award-winning, sold out shows with your dance company, marinspired, and many successes in the commercial dance industry including features on “World of Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars”. Can you tell us more about how that initial experience with Gus eventually led to the creation of “Flickers”, and more about the creative and rehearsal process for this work? How is the process for a concert dance work different from the commercial pieces you have been creating over the last couple years?
Marinda: I met Gus in 5th grade when I took his class at a convention. In 2000, he began to take an interest in my dancing and I became one of his assistants on conventions. I was 16 at that time, and even though I was young, I was extremely conscious that I was working with a legend. I felt tremendously lucky to be in such close proximity to him towards the end of his career and life. I tried to commit every word that came out of his mouth to memory. To me, his wisdom was akin to diamonds. I was not only a dance assistant to him, but also kind of a personal assistant as he continued to age. Because I assisted him only on convention and not in Chicago, I had never met Nan. When Gus passed away, I felt like my connection to the company went along with him. It was tremendously difficult for me.
Almost a decade later, my dear friend Zach Heller joined the company. Two years ago, I was in Chicago on a job and he invited me to a rehearsal to finally meet Nan. The second I hugged her, I felt Gus everywhere. It felt as though he had orchestrated the whole thing. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. It was a moment I will never forget. Nan and I clicked instantly and have been able to share so many wonderful memories and photos of her Father. She and I have grown very close. Anytime I was eager for something to happen Gus would say, “All things in due time my dear.” He was right; it all happened when it was supposed to.
In the last couple of years, I have been fortunate to do a lot of commercial work. That said, the process for it is essentially non-existent. It’s often only a day or two before we finally learn who our cast is, get a song or concept approved, and are able to create and set the work. It’s a high-pressure whirlwind of an experience; you just throw things at the dancers and hope and pray they catch it.
…as an audience member seeing people go through something visually is so much more powerful than words.
Going into this two-week process to create “Flickers,” I was like a kid in a candy shop. We had time to truly speak about the piece, develop material, and go through it in depth citing intention and origin. It was so refreshing to have time to do so much of that with the GDC dancers. They were so open to all of it, and HUNGRY. It was an emotional process – every day there were tears – tears of joy, of happiness, of tremendous release, of relief. Emotions ran high through rehearsal every day.
There was one day I asked them to write down the most painful thing anybody has ever said to them. Then I asked them to verbally scream it over and over again to one of the dancers. Because my work is so personal, if I engaged myself in the emotion too much, I’d be a puddle on the floor; I have to put a shield up when I work. After the first time they tried it, I turned off the music and probably as a defense mechanism, went straight on to moving forward. But when I looked up, the entire company was sobbing. A lot of the process was me learning to let them feel things. The dancers were able to put so much of themselves in this piece and I’m excited for the dance community to see this side of them.
My work is highly narrative driven. Every movement has a purpose; nothing is arbitrary. If we had time, I could literally tell you what every single movement means. But I think as an audience member, seeing people go through something visually is so much more powerful than words.
I loved my original idea, but “Flickers” was what it was supposed to be for this moment… It was simply destined to be.
Kristi: When working on a new piece of choreography, nearly every dance creator is faced with the challenge of finding the perfect score or piece of music to elevate their work. Some choreographers are fortunate to have an original score created for their work, while others must rely on the power of online search engines or recommendations from friends and colleagues. Finding the right music not only elevates the piece but can also add an extra dimension that helps audiences connect more deeply to the work. Can you tell us more about the music for “Flickers” and what makes the overall piece and your aesthetic relatable to audiences?
Marinda: Initially, I had a completely different idea for the piece that was going to feature original, newly composed music. It had a different story line and concept. In the end, we realized the music was a tremendous undertaking that would require a full symphony. With the holidays, it unfortunately could not be completed in time. I was so devoted to my original idea, I spent about 3 weeks completely mourning it.
I eventually found and decided on three songs by Son Lux. They have some lyrics to them, but not in a typical pop song structure. I knew songs with lyrics weren’t typical to the company, so I wasn’t sure if Nan would respond to it. I sent the music to her on a whim partly thinking that it wouldn’t fly, but she loved and embraced it. She was so ignited by it because she said they had nothing like it in their repertoire.
This time the music came first and the idea came second. I spent five very intense days in my apartment in LA listening to the three songs repeatedly, getting the music in my veins. I built a story and an arc from there. I loved my original idea, but “Flickers” was what it was supposed to be for this moment. I couldn’t be happier with it. It was simply destined to be.
The environment Nan has fostered is truly remarkable. She’s cultivated a group of dancers that possess a kind of work ethic I haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
I am all about bringing dance to a more human level. I feel like dance is at the bottom of the funding totem pole because people cannot connect to things they don’t recognize. I love the abstraction of concert dance, I love dance for dance’s sake, but part of solving the problem of funding for dance has so much to do with bringing it to a more tangible level. I want to connect with people outside of the artistic community.
When I watch “Flickers” I sometimes forget that I am watching a dance piece. Yes, it’s athletic and has big lifts and movement, but because it is so rooted in narrative, it feels almost like I am watching a film. It feels tremendously visceral. Everyone that’s watched it so far has gotten emotional. I think it’s a piece that any human, artistic or not, can tap into.
The environment Nan has fostered is truly remarkable. She’s cultivated a group of dancers that possess a kind of work ethic I haven’t seen in nearly a decade. They are so special. From the first company to the second company, every single person in that room is not only fully pulling their weight, but also going above and beyond. They are trained, passionate, resilient, strong, intelligent, positive, warm, thankful, proficient, seasoned, humble, and kind. I get tears in my eyes every time I speak about them.
Giordano Dance Chicago premieres “Flickers” as part of their Spring Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E Randolph St, Chicago). The program also features works from the GDC repertoire from Brock Clawson, Ron DeJesus, Autumn Eckman, Ray Leeper. An additional work by Autumn Eckman, “Alloy” (2011), a sensual male-female duet, will be performed by Devin Buchanan and Maeghan McHale, both of whom will be celebrating their final performances with the company.
Performances take place at the Harris Theater March 22 & 23 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available online my.harristheaterchicago.org or by calling the Box Office at 312-334-7777. To learn more about the company and the evening’s program, visit www.giordanodance.org.