Gibney Company Spring 2020 Season guest choreographer, Banning Bouldin, shares thoughts on her process, working with Gibney Company, and our season theme, Insider/Outsider. Banning’s work would have premiered live in April 2020 on a shared bill with premieres by Mark Caserta and Yin Yue. 

In what ways do you feel like an outsider?

The first and certainly for me the most powerful experience, is my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis three years ago. I spent the first 36 years of my life highly coordinated, athletic, an artist, dancing professionally, and then woke up one morning and could not feel my legs, could not move, and had difficulty walking. And true to any dancer, I was thinking “I’ll just shake it off, you know try to warm up and stretch, and hopefully it will go away.” Over time and hospitalization, a lot of testing, I found out that I actually have a debilitating neurological condition that for a lot of people, leads to paralysis. So that was a huge schism in my experience in my body, almost feeling like an outsider in my own body.

I certainly relate more now as a choreographer, or identify more now as a choreographer than a dancer. So my outsider experience with losing my dancing body, and my experience with society shifting as someone who is periodically differently abled has had a massive impact on my creative process. I think about how I can make dances if I can’t illustrate physically what I mean. It has sent me into some pretty interesting and I think potent new territory as a maker—super collaborative new territory as a maker that definitely has an impact on how I’m approaching my process with the dancers of Gibney Company.

How has your experience as an outsider impacted your creative process?

I think that feeling like an outsider in my own body has impacted my approach to creating dances and movement by having to accept that striving and this specific kind of ableist mastery is not within my current bandwidth, and that [there are] other incredible skill sets and strengths that I have the opportunity to uncover, that beforehand I never even had to consider. These concepts and realizations play a large role in the visual imagery that I explore with the dancers looking at reframing mastery—striving, problem solving, and accepting what the physical imagery of those ideas can look like in a dancer’s body that may be different from how we were trained to think about movement.

And how do you feel like an insider?

As a white woman in the South, we have a reputation for being able to talk our way out of situations. And to be seen in a way that I find quite patronizing, but we’re seen with a sort of charm that allows us to get away with things in a way that people of color in the South don’t. When I think of being an insider, I think of my privilege of growing up in the South as a cis-gendered white woman. And so I think about what platforms I have as a way make strides towards incorporating a more inclusive creative environment racially and culturally. Being willing and able to stand up for my friends and people of color in my life, when situations arise. The main thing that I can think of right now, is the way that I can use my platform as a leader in the arts community to encourage inclusion and diversity, and implement policies.

And, my insider informs my outsider and vice versa. I think in order for me to honestly and authentically experience and express empathy, I have to be deeply connected with both my insider and outsider experiences, and honest with myself and others. Empathy is at the top of my list of priorities as a choreographer and also as a citizen.

Three people talking in a dance studio about the work they are making together.

How did working with Gibney Company come about?

Amy, Nigel, and I have been talking about me working with the company for a couple of years. I think summer of 2017 was when we started our conversations, and they intimated that the whole concept for the program came from some of the early conversations we were having about our creative process and visions for practices—discussion of things like creating the kind of diversity and inclusion that we felt weren’t happening and that were essential. I was really flattered when they invited me to create a work, and also that our early conversations had had such an impact on the concept for the evening.

Top photo by Andrea Behrends Fecht.