A former dancer of the world-renowned Pilobolus Dance Theater, Haitian-born Gaspard Louis presents a message in his choreography that is as social as it is artistic.
Born and raised in Haiti, Louis moved to New Jersey when he was thirteen years old. Initially a business major at Montclair State University, a young woman reached out to him to teach martial arts, which he was practicing at the time. Afterwards, she encouraged him to try dance. Although Louis was reluctant at first, he quickly discovered a love for the art, and in his sophomore year, Louis switched to become a dance major.
His passion led him to become a part of the Pilobolus Dance Theater, an internationally lauded modern dance company. In his seven years with the company, Louis travelled the world touring, teaching and performing, as well as collaborating on several of the company’s projects.
After his time with Pilobolus, Louis moved to Durham in 2009. He worked in real estate until he realized that he did not care for the business world. As a result, he began to teach Haitian Creole at Duke and worked to receive his master's in dance from Hollins University.
Louis then started the dance company Gaspard & Dancers. Although he choreographs the company’s works, the local dancers who make up the company combine their individual styles to make every performance a collaborative effort. At Duke, the company will be performing “Souke” and “Magical Cusp,” as well as premiering the pieces “Rubix” and “Annatations.”
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Louis felt like he “immediately wanted to choreograph something” as a tribute to the 300,000 people who had died in the earthquake. The piece took time to put together because Louis was initially reluctant about taking on the challenge of creating a fitting tribute to such a disastrous catastrophe. This feeling changed, though, after Louis met with the great Jean-Léon Destiné.
Destiné is considered by many to be the father of Haitian professional dance. Although Louis himself is not trained in Haitian dance, Destiné convinced him to follow his passion by choreographing this tribute to Haiti. Meeting with the Haitian legend enhanced Louis’s confidence and convinced him to follow through with choreographing the piece. When reflecting on the conversation, Louis remarked that he “feels blessed that [he] had the chance to talk to this man.”
“Souke” is the work that Louis created in memory of the destruction struck by the 2010 Haitian earthquake. In English, the title translates to “shake.” Louis wanted the piece to “shed some light on Haiti” by showing “how the people came together” during the time of crisis.
Louis is also excited for the premiere of “Annatations,” which translates to "swim across" and which he considers the follow-up piece to “Souke.” He described that this piece depicts the Roman Catholic state of purgatory. In the faith, those who are not clearly good or evil stay in purgatory as a temporary punishment to cleanse themselves before entering heaven. Louis remarked that in this state, we “must wash away the negativity," and that here, we truly realize the pointlessness of acts of racism and violence and see the similarities that we all share.
Duke alumni Paul Leary helped compose much of the music for the show. He has known Louis for around three years and remarked how “Gaspard is incredibly specific about what he wants." Leary wrote the music for “Rubix” and co-wrote the score for “Souke” with Randy Love. Leary writes primarily electronic music; all of the music in the show uses a virtual orchestra.
About his own artistic process, Louis noted that while choreographing, he asks himself, “What do I think? How do I feel?” so that the piece is truly a reflection of his thoughts and emotions. With his works—especially ones like “Souke” and “Annatations"—Louis tries to resonate and remember tragedy, but he also unites people to show that “we are all the same after all.”
Gaspard & Dancers will perform October 18 and 19 in the Reynolds Industries Theater. Tickets are now on sale at online and at the box office. For more information, visit http://danceprogram.duke.edu.