Dancer Gerald Casel lives and breathes the art of choreography. With a BFA from Juilliard and an MFA from University of Wisconsin, he has danced professionally in companies including Michael Clark, Russell Dumas, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Lar Lubovitch and Stephen Petronio, where he also served as Assistant Director and Director of Education. A native of the Philippines, Casel was raised in California, and toured the world's stages before joining the UCSC Theater Arts faculty as Professor of Dance in 2013.
Reaching beyond traditional dance genres, Casel's choreographic style embraces collaboration between dance and music, costume design and technology—mixing performance with recorded and live video projections to enhance the experience of seeing and feeling dance. "I came here knowing that it's a different atmosphere—we encourage collaboration and make work in relation to the environment," Casel contends. "Things you don't think of at Juilliard." His studio courses in contemporary dance focus on "body friendly somatic movement," on injury prevention, and "on looking at the body as body." Casel notes that dance is often taught strictly from an aesthetic vantage point. "I teach from a kinetic, anatomical point of view." He believes that his approach takes nothing away from expressivity. "It's just more authentic. This is not a conservatory. These are real bodies, and there is a lot of cross over with other disciplines and media."
Random Movement by Design
Casel admits to having been revolutionized by choreographic masters John Cage and Merce Cunningham. "My current research involves exploring random number generators," he grins mysteriously. "I'm interrogating the choreographic assumption that movement can only come from the choreographer." After assigning numbers to parts of the body as well as spatial dimensions, he feeds them into a computer. "Then it randomizes the sequences, and the computer comes up with a schema which include all points in space. All points in space are valid, as Merce Cunningham said." Asked to describe the dance philosophy he evolved after his residency with the Stephen Petronio Company, Casel responds: "a collision of breakneck speed fashion visual art contemporary music." Another grin. "I work in a highly collaborative fashion and my work pushes the edges of that collaboration. Dancers are highly valued in my work and the students are responding to this."
"The rigor should be in your craft, not in telling dancers what to do. To attempt to define choreography is already wrong."
Collaborative Choreography on Many Stages
Even though Casel travels globally to stretch his performance skills, he also enjoys working with his dance colleagues in San Francisco. "I have a company and we're doing some shows here in Santa Cruz, including a participatory performance with the Museum of Art and History. I don't mind working in small environments." Casel admits that time will inevitably take a toll on the primary research tool of dance—the body—yet "even with the aging of technical abilities, in other ways I've enriched my quality of movement. Often the very young dancers, for all their technical prowess, don't have the refinement or nuance that comes with experience."
A recent recipient of a CHIME grant, which will enable the choreographer to work for a year with dance legend Margaret Jenkins, Casel is also applying for funding to research the Philipine national folk dance. "It is the national dance of the Philippines, yet it was created by Spanish colonizers in the 16th century. It represents a fascinating discord, an art of oppression." Casel is keen on exploring why the true origins of the national dance are not widely known. "Why is that not told?" He plans to visit the Phillipines for the research. "I haven't been there for a long time, and I have a love/hate relationship with this dance."
Gerald Casel's moving relationship with his heritage stands to make for fascinating dance history.