“Small is beautiful”
We were able to sit down with Gilbert Small last week at a Pho restaurant on Broadway to hear more of his story and perspective. Gilbert is an incredibly strong force within the company. His energy, passion, and strength are only a part of what makes him an incredible artist. He is constantly researching and curious about new ways to approach dance as a medium. We admire Gilbert both in the studio and on stage. Here is a chance for you to learn more about the beautiful creature that is Gilbert Small.
Who are you?
Well, my full name is Gilbert Tyronne Small II, after my father, which is something not many people know about me.
How did you get here?
I am 28 years old and was born in Baltimore, Maryland. I trained at the Baltimore School of the Arts. After high school I went to SUNY Purchase in New York to study for my BFA in Performing Arts. While in my third year at SUNY, I studied abroad at Codarts in Rotterdam. My last year at Purchase, I danced in Toronto for Pro/Arte Danza and Emily Molnar was one of the guest choreographers there. After I completed school, I danced for a few choreographers in New York, Sidra Bell, Gregory Dolbashian and Kyle Abraham. Approximately eight months after my time at Pro/Arte, Emily asked me to come join her as she accepted the position of artistic director of Ballet BC and started reshaping the company.
Why is dance important to you?
I believe that it’s one of the deepest forms of expression. As a child I found that dance was the avenue I needed to truly express myself. I believe this art form can help change the world for the better. I believe dance brings me to my true self
Can you tell us a little more about Rotterdam and what was happening in your life at that time?
My time in Rotterdam was transformative for my dancing but also for me personally. I felt more in my skin in Rotterdam, more confident in who I was as a person. It was strange, it happened almost right away. I think because no one knew me my anonymity allowed me to define myself in ways that I never had before. I didn’t have to worry about people thinking I was different or had changed I was just able to explore what I found interesting and what I wanted to do in any given moment.
Dance-wise the school saw a talent in me and they saw a potential that I don’t think even I was aware of. They started chipping away at me the first day. I think I was mentally and physically quite blocked. For the first time I was asked to relate movement to imagery and it really opened something up in me. I didn’t know then that I would relate to working with images as a starting point for technique. It helped me more than I could have imagined at that time. Up to that point I had been very stuck in my head about what I was “supposed” to be, and what I wanted to be. They let me use all the tools I already had to explore new, unlimited options in my work that I had never considered before. It allowed me to find more textures in my body and allowed me to reach beyond what I thought my limits were.
I never got used to being there. Up until the day I left, I was in a constant state of disbelief and wonder. Just being from Baltimore and then living in Europe. It was almost surreal. I truthfully feel that I would not be here today if I hadn’t experienced everything I did when I was in Holland. To this day I think that is the best decision I have made in my life.
Why were you looking for a change?
My sophomore year of college was quite rough. I danced well, and school was fine but for some reason it was a rough patch for me personally. I had a conversation with my mentor, Richard Cook where he told me that he thought it would be good for me to get away from the school.
I put a lot of pressure on myself. I often feel like it’s me against the world, even though it’s not. Because I was fighting and trying to figure something out, I started to feel like I was going crazy. I definitely shut everyone out.
I found myself trying so hard to be the person everyone else wanted me to be, and not listening to my own desires. That really took a toll on my mental stability. I was dancing all the time, but emotionally I was empty.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Always love yourself. This is sometimes harder to do than other times. But learning to always love myself has really helped me in my growth as a person and as an artist.
Relationship to imagery in your day to day life?
A lot of times I can’t quite express how I feel in words. If I am writing I can, but it takes a while. With images and sensation thought I am able to get to the root of things quicker. In my personal life, in terms of what I want my relationships to look like, I have images in my head. No words, just pictures.
When I was younger my family would be driving to the the mall or to my grandmother’s house, and if a song that my parents loved came on the radio they would stop at a red light, get out of the car and dance in the street. My brother and I would be sitting in the car watching them dance full out with the headlights shining on them. Then when they saw the traffic light start to change they would jump back in and we would drive off. Stuff like that, to me was true happiness.
There is something artistically that I am still searching for. I need to feel free and trusted in order to grow. When I was a child I felt supported and completely trusted by my parents. I was able to explore and be myself. I am learning how to do that on my own.
Speaking of your daily life, what’s something you don’t leave home without?
I always have my watch on when I leave my place. If I forget it, I feel naked. I will almost always turn back unless I will be making myself late for an appointment or class in the morning.
What is something you are researching in your work right now?
I started looking into the life and practice of ninjas. The mental state that they have to be in intrigues me. There is something about being silent that I would like to apply to my dancing. Being able to be so ready and able to attack out of nowhere. Being invisible when I want to be. There is something to always, “being in a state of…”
For example, an arabesque. Instead of thinking of arabesque as a position, I try to imagine that I am in a state of arabesque, constantly feeling the possibilities of where it’s coming from and where it’s going.
You talk about trying to be mentally quiet. Do you feel like your thoughts are loud?
I don’t think I’m loud in my mind, but I don’t trust my innermost thoughts. It’s not loud, it’s just not as quiet as I need it to be so that I can act with clarity. I’m able to find this “state” more when I am partnering because I need to hear what is happening in the body of the person I am dancing with. For some reason I haven’t been able to find it as easily on my own. I’ve felt it before but I would like to live in it.
It sounds like you’re referring to a kind of focus. How are you personally cultivating your awareness of it?
How do you build focus? It’s not just about looking somewhere. Focus comes from somewhere so deep. I’ve found that when the work comes from a place of sensation, as opposed to external aesthetic, it is easier to find that focus. I feel it run up my spine. It’s in my sinovial fluids.
Where do you see yourself going?
I have an idea of what kind of artist I want to be but I don’t think I have an end goal. If I can continue learning until the day I die, that’s all I need. I want new experiences and to keep learning from people, and learn how to fuse everything. Even more than dance. There’s so much out there in the world. I want to be the best I can be at everything I do.
We asked Gilbert to answer a series of short questions and word associations. We wanted him to answer briefly and instinctively. Hopefully this can be another glimpse into his perspective on the world.
RAPID FIRE QUESTION ROUND:
What is your general feeling about the future?
What stresses you out?
Favourite comfort food?
Macaroni and cheese
Best thing to do in the back of car?
Is lying always evil?
How do you define “style”?
Do you still use paper checks?
What would you spend money on to ensure it’s quality?
The name of your imaginary friend?
Video by Peter Smida.
-C+A Consulting Artists