DANCE ‣ Dancer of the Month, May-June 2023, Gillian Rhodes, American Performer and Storyteller
Phil Cartwright, Founder
Gillian Rhodes is an American performer and storyteller. She is trained in classical ballet and contemporary dance. After graduating from Columbia University with a dance major, Gillian moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the advice of a Columbia classmate to teach choreography workshops. She stayed three years choreographing for national television and working for an arts NGO, and then moved to Seoul, South Korea to seek out more opportunities. There, she danced with a Korean contemporary dance company for 2.5 years before shifting to Lahore, Pakistan in 2018 where she currently resides. In Pakistan she applies her performing arts background to a wide range of work, including modeling, acting, teaching, researching, and performing.
Gillian tells us, "My dance journey has been long and winding. I insisted on beginning ballet classes as a five year old, inspired by Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, but got bored as a preteen and spent several years studying aerial circus arts instead. Being at Columbia rekindled my drive to dance, especially during a year abroad in Paris where I had the opportunity to work closely with Anne Debaecker, a student of Dominique Mercy (from the original Pina Bausch company). From there, it was just a matter of when and how, and not what if."
Figuring out the when and how was what led Gillian on her journeys. As a student at Columbia, she
always felt she was behind the other dancers due to the years of training missed, which was partly why she thought the ‘traditional’ path of dancing for a company or other productions was inaccessible, and agreed to go to Cambodia to teach choreography workshops when a university classmate suggested it. "It’s funny – about three years later, I did indeed get the opportunity to dance for a professional company in Seoul. It was something I never thought I’d be able to do, and it really was a dream come true."
Her travels as an artist have led her to the most fabulously strange experiences. These include judging a Kpop dance competition live on Cambodian television, dancing with a Korean company in Bangalore India, performing on the streets of Jeju for a Fringe Festival, performing bhangra at the closing ceremony of a boxing competition, and choreographing a film on location in the middle of rural Pakistan are just a few of the more notable examples that come to mind, though there are many more.
These days Gillian is focusing more on solo performance and pushing herself to discover the limits of her ability as a storyteller. This involves dance, as it always has and will, but goes beyond the traditional boundaries of genre. "I’ve created four characters (Pierrot, the Man in the Suit, the Lady in Red, and Monster) to use as “artistic alter egos,” and imagine building them up over the years with content, merchandise, and more. They blend my training in movement and storytelling with my side interest in writing and world-building."
And going forward? Gillian tells us, "Of course, in the meantime, I’ll be exploring – what dance is and can be, what I can do with and through it, and where it might take me in this wild and wonderful world."
Find out more about Gillian Rhodes at Gillian Rhodes Performer|Storyteller