By Jos Wortley
I was well enough to attend this year’s Theatre in Motion at the Rhodes Drama department. Sitting next to you Gary, watching a new theatre language unfold before me, I was challenged on so many levels. Memories of me dancing in those very special spaces and now watching new and exciting choreographers and dancers pushing their boundaries paralleled my ‘coming out’ as an artist once again. I have decided to pay tribute to you Gary in the form of a brief letter.
I wonder if you have any idea what kind of influence you had on this former student of yours. I was a classical dancer, schooled in the strict, formal, regimented Cecchetti method where dance was a science, precise and controlling. I didn’t have the best extension, or the most open turn out. I couldn’t do the splits or jeté the highest off the sprung dance floors. But I had a yearning to perform through dance. Classical training gave me technique, but I knew there was more to this thing we call dance. Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance said that “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”
When I arrived at Rhodes as a first year, a wide eyed incredibly naïve young performer in 1983, little did I know that my life was about to change. I entered the world of contemporary dance and Gary Gordon. Composed balance lines gave way to off-centres, throwing the body weight around, off beats, banging and stamping, leaping and falling, gliding and stabbing. Suddenly my world of dance came from emotion and from places uneasy, dancing with a purpose and of true expression.
I found this space challenging, always exhilarating, and strangely comfortable. To be comfortable in discomfort is only achieved in a space of trust and security. You created this safe place for the performer. You, Gary, pushed your students, not only to be the best physical dancers but to be dancers of integrity. We had to know where the performance was coming from and where it was going. Your eye for line, composition, rhythm, and staging pushed me to start thinking of dance as not just a form of moving my body. But it made me bring Life with all its complicated, jumbled emotions, into every performance. Dance became movement and movement became dance.
You also collaborated with your students, willing them to become a part of the total process of a dance production. You had an energy I so admired. An energy that I would carry with me long after I stopped dancing. So, what do I mean by this ‘energy’ for it is truly a remarkable thing. It is the total commitment to the present moment. This energy brings with it the inquisition of all that surrounds us. It is about keeping our eyes open to this life. This energy you imparted forced me to see, to hear, to feel and to be.
It gave me now. You placed me in my present. My now. And this is why, 34 years later, I have come back to you, strangely at a time that finds you retiring from Rhodes University, to say thank you.
Thank you for making me present. Thank you, for as I was so often on my couch, ailing this disease, I was repeatedly reminded of your energy, and it pulled me into the moment of the now to create this exhibition, MOVE.
I dedicate my very first exhibition to you, Professor Gary Gordon.