New York’s Gibney Dance company on maiden trip to Israel

Gibney has been a pillar of the dance community and a catalyst for change for over three decades.

 ‘BLISS’ BY SWEDISH choreographer Johan Inger. (photo credit: SHARON BRADFORD)
‘BLISS’ BY SWEDISH choreographer Johan Inger.
(photo credit: SHARON BRADFORD)

In the words of Ani Difranco, “what doesn’t bend breaks.” If there is one dance troupe in the world that embodies this notion, it is Gibney Company. Founded in 1991 by choreographer and social justice activist Gina Gibney, the troupe was originally devoted to purveying the works of its founder. Over the past three years, however, the New York City-based dance company has undergone a massive restructuring, doubling its size and shifting its repertoire to include works by commissioned artists while maintaining an uncompromising dedication to dance and to bettering the working conditions of dance artists.

This month, the improved Gibney Dance will visit Israel for the first time. The tour has been coproduced by the company and the MART Foundation. “Touring is very new for us,” says Gibney via Zoom. It is early morning in New York City and Gibney is warm and articulate. Although the company will present work by Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal, the engagement will be Gibney’s first trip to the country. “We collaborated with the team from MART on the program. We have only been in this newly envisioned model for three years and we are very lucky that they invited us right out the gate.”

Beyond making choreographies, Gibney has been a pillar of the dance community and a catalyst for change for over three decades. Very early on in her career, Gibney acquired a studio on the fifth floor of a building just above Union Square. From one studio she expanded to several spaces, which she rented to other artists and companies. Today, Gibney Dance runs two locations boasting 23 studios and five performance spaces. Directing these vital dance hubs keeps Gibney involved not only in the performance scene but in the daily lives of dance artists all over the city be it in classes, workshops, residencies or fellowships.

“Coming up through the field, I had no infrastructure around me except for my board of directors. I have virtually no staff and was trying to make work. I had one studio, which was a stable home for a lot of artists. I saw the community’s needs. I saw the lack of resources. I saw the struggle of trying to work in a field that is so lacking in infrastructure. There aren’t choreographic centers. There aren’t big, supported spaces that nurture the creative process. We have studios here and there. We have presenters here and there. Our company was born in that context and has been re-envisioned in that context. We are deeply informed by our surroundings and our desire to connect with the field.”

The restructuring of the company was made possible thanks to a grant from Andrew A. Davis and the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund. The sizeable donation allowed Gibney to double the number of dancers on contract, bring on company director Gilbert T. Small II and begin commissioning work by choreographers from around the globe. All this was put into motion just moments before the pandemic hit.

“WE ANNOUNCED the expansion from six to 12 dancers in January 2020. The audition was in February. We signed those contracts and then the pandemic happened. We started rehearsing in September 2020 when everything was closed. The dancers came up in the freight elevator in an empty building, with the double masks,” says Gibney.

“We announced the expansion from six to 12 dancers in January 2020. The audition was in February. We signed those contracts and then the pandemic happened."

Gina Gibney

The first artist to work with the new cast was Palestinian-American choreographer Sonya Tayeh, whose work Oh Courage! will be one of three works in the program presented in Israel.

Oh Courage! was created during the pandemic and it really touches on themes of resilience and transcendence. It’s about being able to move through darkness and strife and struggle and emerge with hope. Sonya won an award for her choreography on Moulin Rouge. We wanted to introduce her concert work.”

Other works

The other two works in the program are Sara by Sharon Eyal and Bliss by Swedish choreographer Johan Inger. “Bliss is a lyrical work,” explains Gibney. “It is very sophisticated but also really close. The work uses music by Keith Jarret. All 13 of our dancers perform it and the joy that they feel being part of it is really evident. It’s a blissful work.”

Sara, by Sharon Eyal, will be performed by Gibney for the first time while in Israel. “I am a Sharon Eyal fan,” says Gibney. “Her work is so exacting and uncompromising and unique and relentless. And the fact that she is a driven, female choreographer is powerful and inspiring for me.” Gibney explains that the initial relationship between the company and Eyal was orchestrated by the MART Foundation. “They connected us with Sharon. Sara seemed like a really good piece for us. It’s a really beautiful, haunting, sensuous work that seemed to be a great addition to the program. It’s also a good way to introduce our company.”

Presenting works by these artists is more than a cut-and-dry transaction to Gibney. “Programming and developing relationships with artists is a dance. I believe it should not be like we’re buying something. It’s very much about relationships. It’s about bringing work to our artists to inform their development and to inspire them.”

Gibney Dance will perform at the Suzanne Dellal Center from February 28 through March 2. For more information, visit: