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Gwen and Andre talk to Lalitha Venkat about their participation in DUST
Nov 24, 2002

Gwen Hunter Ritchie and André Koslowski are Company Members of Dance Alloy, Pittsburgh, USA. They are in India to perform in a 3-city tour of the multi-cultural collaboration DUST, between Mark Taylor, artistic director of Dance Alloy and Anita Ratnam, artistic director of Chennai based Arangham Dance Theatre, featuring the talents of Anusha Subramanyam and L Narendra Kumar. Bharatanatyam and contemporary American dance met and several interesting 'phrases' were developed in the US. The creative process was not easy for all four marvellous dancers who had to learn and unlearn dance techniques in order to create this work in a few short weeks.

Gwen Hunter Ritchie holds a BA in dance from the University of South Florida, and joined Dance Alloy in 1998. She danced professionally with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Lesa McLaughlin & Dancers and Lower Left Dance. For four years, Gwen was with San Diego-based Malashock Dance & Co., where she was both a company member, performing in the US and abroad, and assistant to the director. Most recently she danced with the Kevin Wynn Collection in New York City.

André Koslowski joined Dance Alloy in 1995. A native of Bonn, Germany, he received a diploma from the Conservatory of Music and Theatre in Berne, Switzerland, and studied dance at the London Contemporary Dance School. During his time in London, he danced in works by Victoria Marks, Janet Smith and Richard Alston. Koslowski's own choreography was presented at The Place Theatre. Koslowski made his American movie debut in Achilles Heel, a comedy filmed in Pittsburgh.

Along with Mark Taylor, Gwen and André conducted a 2-day workshop for students of dancer/choreographer Kokila's Academy of Modern Danse, Chennai.

Gwen and Andre share their experiences.

Was it difficult for you to learn the Bharatanatyam technique?
André: Yes, it was very, very difficult for us because it's a very different style of movement and the approach to physicality is so different from what we are doing. The work we do with Mark especially, is very much about momentum and space and Bharatanatyam is very much about centre, it moves away from your centre but stays in your own periphery. Then there are all those details with your eyes, which we don't have in our work. We use our focus but not with that kind of specificity at all.
It's an ongoing process. I don't think we have mastered the style at all. It's something like, the more you know, the more you get comfortable with it, but you also find out how much there is that you don't know.
Gwen: At first, it was very difficult, because the focus is so much on speed and precision, also a lot of detail on hands and eyes in a small space, around the body, what we call near space. In modern dance, we focus much more on flow and expansion, everything is so big.

What did you feel when you were going through the choreography process for DUST?
André: One thing is, the whole group was an amazing group to collaborate with. It was a great experience to work with Anita, Anusha and Narendra. They are all very sure artists, so there was a real conversation and exchange going on between us, rather than just learning steps from each other. It was much more meaningful than that.
Gwen: It was wonderful to work on subtlety and detail, learn the mudras, focus on eyes and hands as well as still having an attack with the rhythm of the feet. It was challenging because we are not used to the incredible training and rhythms that Bharatanatyam dancers have. We usually use counts of 8 or 6, very even beats, so it was difficult to catch up with the polyrhythmic music of Bharatanatyam. But it was a welcome challenge.

Among the company dancers, how did you land the part in DUST?
André: When Anita first came to Pittsburgh, probably 3 years ago, she did a workshop in which Gwen participated. Anita, Gwen and Narendra worked together and that's when Anita decided she wanted to work with Gwen on this project. Mark just offered the part to me on the point of seniority, because I've been with the company for a long time, about 7 ½ years.
Gwen: When I was dancing with Mark for Dance Alloy, maybe 3 or 4 summers ago, on contract, Mark said Indian dancer Anita Ratnam was coming with 2 of her dancers, to work out a common vocabulary in the studio and asked if I'd like to be a part of it. I attended for a few days, I learnt a lot. Narendra and I combined movements, we made up a little phrase and Anita even videotaped it. When Mark and Anita knew for sure that a collaboration was in the offing, Anita asked if I would like to be part of the project that required 2 dancers each from both companies.

How different is this collaboration from the others that you have been involved in?
André: What really made the difference is, it was all so intimate. In this collaboration, there were only the 6 of us - Anita, Mark, Gwen, Anusha, Narendra and myself. In other collaborations, there were a lot more people involved, who were from bigger companies and the work was in a broader perspective. This was very intimate and intense, so very focussed, we had to go deeper into the subject than collaborations we have experienced before.

What kind of work do you do in the US?
André: In the company, we do mainly Mark's work. His work is very physical, but is also very much about the humanity of the dancer and relationships between others. Although some of his works are abstract, he is kind of always looking for relationships. He wants to see the person who is dancing rather than the perfect body executing movement. From there, some of his work move into more theatrical styles where it becomes kind of almost like a link between dance and theatre, dance and emotion.
Gwen: I'm a professional dancer. I've danced with Dance Alloy for 4 ½ years. To supplement my income, I also teach Pilates in my home studio, I teach private lessons on the Pilates equipment. I love it because the feeling when you do resistance movement with the equipment, is like you are in water. I love the work and want to teach it to as many people as possible, especially dancers. I also do many workshops in both dance and Pilates.

How do you feel about coming to India to perform?
André: This is my first visit to India and it's very overwhelming. Obviously, we've created the work in the United States and we've only performed it over there so far. They brought their culture and all they know to us. Now, I'm happy I got the chance to come to them, experience and work on it here. It's amazing to come here where you are surrounded by everything that's part of their lives.
Gwen: I feel very honoured and excited to be here, to see this part of the world and culture I've heard so much about. Also, I think it will be wonderful for the progression of the piece DUST because we've talked about and used some rituals in your culture, as in your poojas. Anita and Anusha told us all about the daily rituals and to see it in real life is so wonderful. This visit is good because it will bring us closer, both to this culture and also to the work. People here are so warm, they really celebrate life and I love being here.

You've just been here 4 days and even conducted a 2-day workshop. How did you find the students?
André: It was amazing, the students were so engaged. It seemed that the material is different from what they usually do. The way they understood what we were doing was wonderful, they are an amazingly generous group of people.
Gwen: It was fabulous. They were a great group with tons of energy, hungry for new dance. They took a lot of risks with doing new movement.

(November 24, 2002)