Can you describe the piece you are choreographing for the students?
The ballet is called “Forum.” It lends a voice to all of the things happening around us right now. I think all of us want to say something, but don’t necessarily know how to say it. The idea was to create a platform for the students to speak about any concerns. I met with Randy Duncan after the election and he mentioned that a lot of the students had very strong feelings. So I set out to create a piece where they could have a place to be heard. It is an awakening to the reality we must now face.
The ballet itself tries to combine what is already history and what is continuing to be our history. I hope the dancers find some room for growth within the work.
What specifically about the choreography do you find valuable to the students?
I base my style of movement on a strong foundation of technique. I think it is important to try and dance all types of work, so this piece incorporates many different genres of dance. What I love about my career in a repertory company is that I get to work within many different styles.
With this piece, I want to be able to build a foundation first, so the dancers will be able to execute anything. I hope the value of understanding the importance of a great foundation helps them continue to grow as young artists.
Do you find that establishing a strong technical foundation is the most important focus for young artists?
Well, I think it is important that they recognize it. It’s like making a cake. You have to pay attention to the details to make it good.
How have you seen the dance industry change for young dancers?
Everything is much faster now. Everything is at your fingertips. It’s great that technology is moving us forward, but at the same time, what do we give up?
I think it is our duty as educators to make sure we are connecting dancers to the value of real communication.
Besides this residency, what other projects are you working on?
First, make sure to come see the work at the Spring Dance Concert! Right now I’m still dancing with Alvin Ailey. My tour schedule is crazy—we’re on tour eight or nine months out of the year. I’ve been there since 1997, so this is my twentieth season.
I’m looking to get more into choreography, and the goal is eventually to be an artistic director. Right now, I’ll be teaching at a couple of conferences, and am looking into a new work for Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater.
I know I want to create works of art—not just for the moment, but things that transcend through time.
What is your lasting impression of the Academy Dance Department?
There’s a sense of commitment. It’s really nice to come home to Chicago and see passion in young dancers. Even in the limited amount of time I’ve had to work with them, I saw the tenacity in which they work toward their goal. And that, to me, is something very rare to see. I don’t feel like I need to motivate them. I need to guide their motivations, but I don’t have to motivate them to be here. And that is the great thing about this high school. It really is a place where you walk in and you can smell dance in the air. It’s hard to understand if you are not an artist, but you see a sense of respect and seriousness to what everyone is trying to do. These kids have it here, and that is an amazing thing to have at this age. For me, it’s been amazing to work in this environment.
I hope to come back. I hope to continue to work with them. This is a very special place, and I want to be a part of it. When you have a place like The Academy, you have to understand the greatness of it and the responsibility you have to it.
Vernard J. Gilmore (Chicago, IL) began dancing at Curie Performing and Creative Arts High School in Chicago and later studied at the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre with Harriet Ross, Marquita Levy, and Emily Stein. He attended Barat College as a dance scholarship recipient and received first place in the all-city NAACP ACT-SO Competition in Dance in 1993. He studied as a scholarship student at The Ailey School and was a member of Ailey II. In 2010, he performed at the White House Dance Series. Mr. Gilmore is an active choreographer for the Ailey Dancers Resource Fund and has choreographed for Fire Island Dance Festival 2008 and Jazz Foundation of America Gala 2010; he also produced the Dance of Light Project in January 2010. Mr. Gilmore is a certified Zena Rommett Floor-Barre® instructor. He continues to teach workshops and master classes around the world. Mr. Gilmore joined Alvin Ailey in 1997.