Daniel Gwirtzman started folk dancing in elementary school and hasn’t stopped dancing since. This dance form has informed a practice and pedagogy that seeks to celebrate humanity and community. A producer, educator, filmmaker, and performer, he celebrates twenty-six years as a New York choreographer and company director. His diverse repertory of over a hundred dances has earned praise for its humor and innovation. “Mr. Gwirtzman does know that in dance less can be more. And that’s a good thing for any choreographer to know” writes The New York Times. The New Yorker describes him as a choreographer of “high spirits and skill."
Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company, celebrating its 23rd Anniversary, was founded as a teaching and performing non-profit. The Company has gained acclaim for its playful virtuosity, musicality, accessibility and charisma. “A troupe I’d follow anywhere” (The Village Voice), a “troupe of fabulous dancers” (Backstage) that “can’t help but smile” (The New Yorker). Performance highlights include Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, The Kennedy Center, The Studios at Key West, Whitney Center for the
Arts (Wyoming), The Yard (Martha’s Vineyard), and in New York, Jazz at Lincoln Center, La MaMa, Joyce SoHo, Fire Island Dance Festival, Battery Dance Festival, Bryant Park Presents, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
This photograph, below, on the left, shows why the choreographer was known as "Disco Danny" growing up. This quintessential movement from The Bus Stop has been taking shape on his dancing body for over forty years. The photo in yellow, from Bryant Park Presents Modern Dance in 2015, is a moment from Daniel's signature solo Character. The joy of dance connects past and present.
For the New York City-based Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company, he has created more than one hundred repertory works known for their humor and skill, blending robust physicality with universal themes. His choreography has been performed at venues throughout the country and abroad. He has been awarded commissions, residencies and fellowships from institutions including the Joyce Theater Foundation (NY), Ucross Foundation (WY), The Studios of Key West (FL), Aktuelle Architektur der Kultur (Spain),
Maison Dora Maar (France), The Yard (MA), Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (MA), CUNY Dance Initiative (NYC), Djerassi Resident Artists Program (CA), Sfakiotes (Greece), Gdański Festiwal Tanca (Poland), Raumars (Finland) and the Sacatar Foundation (Brazil).
Dance critic Deborah Jowitt has summarized Daniel’s style as “blending casualness with precision.” The intersection of people is at the repertory’s heart, challenging risk-taking, speed, and trust as physical exemplars of the possible. For Daniel, “Dance is inherently optimistic and aspirational. It is through effort and determination that dancers come into being, overcoming gravity in the raising of a leg, jumping against the earth that roots us. The seemingly impossible becomes real through the fusion of our mind, body, and heart. Dancers know this fantastically rich existence and believe in the value of this for all.”
Daniel has been creating dance films consistently this past decade. No Trespassing screened at the American Dance Festival, and was included in an anthology of screendance they produced. His joyful Brazil series - Pier, Rock The Boat, Crab World, and Into The Streets - has screened in numerous dance film festivals. Sisyphus, forever pushing
a wheeled piece of farm machinery, is metaphorically resonant now. Stranded and Street, filmed in Key West, show off his quirky, humorous side. Terrain, his most celebrated, was filmed in Spain, and last screened April 2021 in Nepal.
A master teacher, Gwirtzman has worked at numerous universities. He has been a full-time faculty member at SUNY Buffalo State, Kennesaw State University, and The University of the Arts and is currently an Assistant Professor of Dance at Ithaca College’s renown Department of Theatre Arts (2019-present). Daniel holds degrees from The University of Michigan and The University of Wisconsin. He danced in the companies of Garth Fagan Dance and the Mark Morris Dance Group among others. He co-founded Artichoke Dance Company in 1995, which The New York Times called “a welcome addition to the New York dance scene.” As a dancer he has been described as “a willowy John Travolta, sensual, playful, a rag doll, unusually supple, and one who moves like the wind.”
WRITTEN INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL
DANCE WITH US
When did the idea to specifically create this platform come to you? How long have you been working on this platform, leading up to its launch?
The Company has been producing educational, interactive materials since our inception, including DVDs and videos. The idea to create this platform is long-standing. When we received the grant from The Rockefeller Brothers Fund I saw the opportunity became possible. The development of Dance With Us was in place years before the pandemic, with resources that have been created over the past two decades, an extension of programming we have offered as a company since our inception in 1998. We have long been committed to conversing about dance, empowering audiences to trust their opinions, and gain more knowledge of dance in pursuit of expanding one’s dance literacy.
What can audiences expect from Dance With Us?
Audiences will be immersed into the world of contemporary dance in a way that is unique and uncustomary. The platform is designed to demystify concert dance. Visitors will be taken behind the scenes to gain insights from dancers narrating their performances, visualize how dances are constructed, and browse an extensive library of dances and dance films to satisfy any mood, from the violently dark to the vibrantly sunny. Whether a novice or an expert, audiences will be treated to a feast of dance content.
In today’s world, why did you believe in creating a digital education dance platform?
Contemporary dance has been seeping more and more into the mainstream culture for decades, enhanced with the advent of shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing
With The Stars. With the proliferation of dance online, increased exponentially during the pandemic, more people are arguably seeing contemporary dance than ever. And an appetite for innovative choreography is a byproduct of this exposure. The ubiquity of dance on film, finding more currency in popular culture, is not going to change. This platform gives everyone, regardless of their exposure to dance, tools to use to speak about dance, encouraging them to understand their viewpoint is as valid as that of an ‘expert.’ At this moment when there is so much dance to see, this platform seeks to serve as a how-to primer.
What forms or characterizes the content on the platform? How did you go about curating what's visible?
The word “repertory” comes from the Latin repertorium, meaning inventory or catalogue. A repertory dance company is one that performs from a collected catalog of their own work. Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company is a repertory dance company that travels and performs dances both from our early days and from recent development.
The accumulation of dances in the repertory creates an inherent archive. I wanted to present the dances themselves, the dancers, as the main part of the platform's content. Dances and dancers need to be seen. A museum is of value when the art is seen. And a museum is a breathing, mutable organism. I reached for many favorites in the repertory, Puzzle, Cycles, Obsession, Summertime Suite, so the viewer could have the opportunity to compare how repertory differs with different casts.
Another interest in creating this platform has been to codify a frame of mind and body of work that has been in growthful flux, for over two decades. In dance, research is part of every decision and discovery. Before one can solve a problem in choreography one must first learn to frame a question. Giving shape and purpose to what one wishes to say, through movement, can be a challenge. However, there are tools and prompts, wisdoms and perspectives, to share. The choreographer, and indeed the dancer, is constantly engaged with research. No two days executing and viewing the same dances are ever the same; dance, because of its ephemerality, lives at the vanishing point. The interest in synthesizing years of professional research is to contribute to a body of information that can best help shape and give substance to this vanishing.
What is your mission for this platform?
This program is geared toward educating audiences how to view and speak about dance with comfort, demystifying concert modern dance, and introducing them to the language, perspectives, and essential concepts of dance.
How did it feel to see the platform's launch listed in Harper's Bazaar's “10 Best Art, Dance, Theater, and Music events for June?
Great pride for the integral, consistent work of the Company all these years, for the efforts and talents of the dancers and other collaborators; most excited
to be selected into the company of such prominent national events, such as the touring of the Obama Portraits.
Has it been challenging this past year transitioning live performance to a virtual format?
The Company has worked in the medium of dance film for the past decade. We were able to employ our skills of site-specific dance production immediately when the pandemic hit, pivoting from proscenium-style performances to those in the great outdoors and in great untraditional interiors.. The three world premieres that will launch this week--Parade (in a courtyard by a pool), Willow (in a range of lawns and meadows), and Dollhouse (in an eccentrically-furnished barn)—demonstrate this versatility and adaptability.
Can dance be effective on film and in a virtual format, or will live dance always win out?
It’s instructive to recall how instrumental dance and film have been since the birth of cinema. From the beginning of the craft, choreography and dance have been employed. It’s part of film’s history. The exciting thing about the dance for camera genre is that it is not attempting to replace or copy live dance. It can’t. It is inherently its own thing, a three-dimensional form transformed into two dimensions. This is not a compromise, rather, a specific and purposeful form of art. Both will live on and flourish unquestionably. Each genre has distinct aims and values.
What’s the exact timeline of the formation of the Company? When did it start?
The Company’s first performances were held in New York City in the summer of 1998 and on Martha’s Vineyard, our first tour, a month-long residency, at The Yard, a celebrated colony for performing artists. We incorporated as a non-profit in 1999. This is the twenty-third season of programming our twenty-third year!
One of the most crucial aspects of your company is that it maintains a dual focus of teaching and performing. Why is this important to you when starting your own company?
My mother, a painter, had her studio right off the kitchen when I was growing up, before moving into a fantastic loft studio. I was in the classrooms and studios with her as she taught—to older adults at the local Jewish Community Center, at the Memorial Art Gallery (this is in Rochester, NY)—from before I can remember. I grew up against a consistent background of teaching. As a dancer, one is always being taught, and also teaching. They are hand-in-hand. A choreographer is inherently a teacher. Central to my own journey has been the importance of educate people about dance in accessible, interactive, and meaningful ways. That started with my family and friends, then strangers through a lifetime of producing and advocating for dance. With this exposure, this contact with dance, and this understanding/knowledge!—the dance, and those that experience it, can flourish. Not everyone has to dance or be a dancer. That is not what it’s about. But rather that the invitation to the dance is always present. And teaching is a way into anything.
How has the Company's mission grown or evolved since its initiation?
What has become clearer than ever this past year has been the insight into how closely and deeply we have hewed to our mission all this time. The pedagogy and programming remains faithful to our earliest versions. The strongest example of both this growth and evolution is this platform.
The Company has been going strong for 23 years. What are the plans for the next 23?
The plans are to continue the production of art that is charismatic, provocative, and entertaining, and
to share this work with audiences in ways that are accessible, meaningful, and relevant. The Dance With Us platform is just that, a foundational support from which we envision the expansion of our interactive and community-centered programming. Ambition has never been in short supply throughout the Company’s existence. The plans are to cultivate the next level of support that will bolster our sustainability, to enable us to continue going strong for the next two decades plus. My grandmother lived to be 102 and the Company’s incorporated name is named for her!
Where and when was your passion for dance born? When did you know dance was going to be a critical part of your life’s focus and work?
The answer to this question lies in the verb used in asking: born! As Lady Gaga would sing, Born That Way! I was born a dancer. My mother recorded in my baby book how I would sit “like a dancer,” and photos show me straddled on the floor, with one leg straight in front and the other bent behind. An innate raw talent and a whirlwind of energy transformed over years into a moldable dancing body with the acquisition of technique. I grew up dancing and performing since Kindergarten and began studying modern
dance at the age of twelve. The summer I turned sixteen was when I knew that passion would take me onto a different path. That summer, instead of continuing to spend it with friends since childhood at summer camp—it would have been my Counselor-in-Training year—I auditioned successfully to attend a rigorous program at Chautauqua Institution, where I was suddenly immersed into a new, professional environment, with legendary artists as teachers.
When did you realize that your talents extended beyond dancing and could include choreography and teaching?
How does one separate the dancer from the dance? I have been choreographing for as long as I have been dancing just about, making up dances, and teaching them to my friends. After college I began teaching in earnest when a former professor invited me to teach at the Interlochen Center for the Arts one summer. I grew up in an artist’s home, observing my mother, a watercolorist, teaching her students.
During my collegiate years I had the opportunity to study with one of my mentors, the great choreographer Garth Fagan, who saw and supported my choreographic skills. Before joining
his troupe as a member, he had produced a solo of my own work on a program of his own. The cultivation of choreographic techniques grew alongside that of my own dancing body.
What is your take on competition dance?
The world of concert dance I have been involved in since college, my entire professional career, has not revolved around competition. My pre-professional and professional experiences were located in spaces that did not support dance as an elitist art form.
TEACHING IN HIGHER ED
How does teaching at an institution of higher learning impact you, the Company, and your professional career?
The practical and the theoretical are woven together as a living, breathing, day-to-day reality. What I am teaching I am also practicing. This past year, Spring Term 2021, I introduced a new course to the Ithaca College community, Dance for the Camera. As I am producing and editing dance films professionally, I am teaching these skills to students. The same with respect to dance history, a theoretical course, dance
composition (a practical one, the study of choreography), dance techniques (jazz, modern, ballet, folk), partnering techniques, and rehearsing and performance. The teaching informs and inspires the creative scholarship which in turn informs the teaching and mentoring. Teaching the same students over time has always had a profound impact on me. I am proud to be a faculty member, proud of the students’ work--who demonstrate innovation, intelligence, humanity, and, best of all, humility--and inspired by colleagues, each advancing their field in exciting ways.