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INTERVIEW: Dancer/Choreographer Gioconda Barbuto

Dancer/Choreographer Gioconda Barbuto in Tangente’s Respiro. Photo by Michael Slobodian.

One of the highlights of TU Dance‘s show at the O’Shaughnessy this weekend is a new piece by choreographer Gioconda Barbuto. Barbuto is an internationally renown dancer, an award-winning choreographer, and a Kennedy Center Fellowship nominee; she is also the 2015 recipient of the McKnight International Artist award, which brings an international choreographer to the Twin Cities to work with local dancers. The Twin Cities Daily Planet sat down with Barbuto to discuss her work with TU Dance.

What are some personal highlights of your work as a dancer and choreographer this year?

This year, I performed in Vancouver again in a new production in collaboration with Joe Laughlin, after not performing [myself] for 2 years. It was exhilarating to be back on stage again. [Being on stage] continues to renew my energy throughout the season while I travel, choreograph new works, and conduct creative movement workshops.

It’s been and continues to be a year of traveling and working creatively between Montreal, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Japan, and back! These travels are enriching and inspiring as it gives me opportunity to meet and create with wonderful new artists/people, making new friendships and plant new seeds along the way.

Although you’ve worked with companies on both sides of the Atlantic, you have some roots with Minnesota Dance Theatre. Have you kept those local connections alive throughout the years, or is your engagement with the Land of 10,000 Lakes more episodic?

I danced with Minnesota Dance Theatre many, many years ago. I’ve also been invited by Lisa Houlton to create [pieces] with the MN Dance Theater, which is when I first met Abdo…which later led to the solo McKnight choreographer invitation. This [performance with TU Dance] is now my 3rd time returning to MN.

What is it like coming back?

It’s great to be back! It’s great to see how the Cities have changed and evolved, and [how] the arts are very much alive and happening here as well as the food culture ([which I am] really enjoying very much!)

How did you first become associated with TU Dance?

The seed of my association with TU Dance happened when I first met and worked with Toni at Minnesota Dance Theatre many years ago. My actual association with TU Dance probably started a few years ago when Toni Uri and I all met in NY, when I was performing with Nederland Dance Theater III [a branch of NDT set up specifically for dancers of 40-plus years of age] and they came to the performance. We were very excited about one day perhaps working together. Also, a few years ago I was invited to choreograph for Solo McKnight for Abdo Sayegh Rodriguez… Toni, Uri, and I had the opportunity to meet and discuss [how] one day they hoped they could really make it happen.

And here we are.

You’re working with a large number of companies around the world this season. How does your work with TU Dance compare to these other organizations?

TU Dance is a very specific company that has been built by two very strong and vibrant, committed artists [who] have a passion for the work and environment they want to build [not only] for their dancers but also [for] the community that they are a big part of. This makes TU Dance a more intimate and familiar company to work with.

Do you have a specific style or aesthetic that runs throughout your work?

It’s hard for me to elaborate about my specific style because I hope to continue evolving. However, the approach [that] I have with each work is that I always begin with a creative movement workshop to get to know the dancers and build an environment in which we can all feel free to create. This also leads to connecting and collaborating easily.

One of the things people often mention about my work is that it can be layered and very orchestrated. I have to admit [that] I love to “play” in the room with everyone; orchestrating the movements with groups of dancers can be a very exciting part of choreographing.

How has the McKnight International Choreographer Residency factored into the works seen at this performance?

I am honored and privileged to be selected for this residency, which has given me this wonderful opportunity to work with Toni and Uri, the TU Dance company, and all of the dancers at TU Dance. This award has also made it possible for us to come together and explore the possibilities that we can create together with the help of the funding provided…as well as everything that comes with their generosity. [This has made] me feel very much at home here in MN. I feel very welcome and have made new and everlasting friendships.

The McKnight residency has also given me opportunities to work with the dance community as well as TU Dance. [These workshops have] provided the space for new relationships to develop [with] the larger dance community in the Twin Cities.

TU Dance performs at The O’Shaughnessy on Friday, November 20 at 8 PM; Saturday, November 21 at 8 PM; and Sunday, November 22 at 2 PM.

Basil Considine