Beyond the Physical Body with Dancer Gerald Casel

This video is a co-production between KQED and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

For dancer and queer immigrant Gerald Casel, the body is a recording device — one that asks: Can we design freedom? And if so, what do we do with it?

Gerald Casel is a queer immigrant artist-activist and educator who creates and presents dances that ask questions about human beings -- who they are, what they do and how their actions affect the world in which they live. He experiences the body as a recording device that documents feelings, emotions and states from an entire lifetime of experiences. He is deeply curious about how habituation, oppression and identity play out in movement, dance and the human form.

Gerald was born in Manila and raised in Oakland and San Jose. During high school he devoured music videos and movies, looking to learn more about movement and dance, and went on to graduate from the Juilliard School. He now teaches at national dance festivals like the American Dance Festival and Mountain Dance Fest, and continues his work with the next generation of Bay Area dancers as an Assistant Professor of Dance at University of California at Santa Cruz.

What is your idea of freedom?

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Freedom means freedom for everyone; if someone is unfairly oppressed, it is a reflection on all of us and we have to do everything we can to undo that oppression. When it arrives, we’ll know, but until then, we have work to do. Acknowledging inequity in all dimensions (in our interactions with one other as well as in institutionalized systems of oppression) is where we start to dismantle what prevents the arrival of freedom.

 What inspires you to dance?

Dancing connects my analytic mind with my feeling body (intuition/sensation/empathy). It provides me with structure and rigor and can also free me from self-imposed and societal constraints. Dancing gives my body permission to complicate what I know and to ask questions that scare me.

What is the most challenging part of being a dancer?

Physical restrictions and habituation.

What thread runs through your dance?

The search for meaning in my relationships with ideas, other people, and nature -- it always starts with the body.

 Tell us about the dance classes you teach.

My classes are like movement meditations; they are body-friendly and rigorously structured. I use somatic techniques -- physical practices that connect the mind and body through a deeply personal sense of discernment to release the dancer from operating on a set of fixed and imposed aesthetic values. I focus on function and mechanics rather than replication of beauty.

Can you tell me about your residency at ODC?

It is a three-year residency that provides artistic and administrative mentoring, production support, and on a more personal level (since my work has not been critically well-received in the Bay Area), a certain sense of validation and legitimacy. It has provided a "home" for my company and our creative experiments together.

Can you tell me about your classes at University of California at Santa Cruz?

I am the Assistant Professor of Dance at University of California at Santa Cruz. I teach several levels of somatic-based modern dance technique, choreography, and improvisation, as well as directing the annual student-run dance concert. I also create original work on my students where they can practice working on the creation of a devised piece of choreography while developing performance skills and practical experience around production, publicity, and presentation. I also get to work with graduate students on refining their thesis projects.

Who are your mentors?

Stephen Petronio, Janet Lilly, Margaret Jenkins, Christy Bolingbroke and Ted Warburton.

 Where can we see you perform next?

Oct. 14–15: Ten Artists Respond to Locus with Hope Mohr Dance.

Oct. 22: Wrecking with Christy Funsch Dance Experience.

Dec. 1: Bodies Matter, at California State University Long Beach with Keith Johnson .

My company, GERALDCASELDANCE will present our home season and a preview of two new works.

 What’s on the horizon? 

This week I’m presenting a paper on choreography as a colonizing force at NDEO (National Dance Education Organization) in Washington D.C. I’ll also continue developing my next work, Cover Your Mouth When You Smile, in collaboration with Na-ye Kim (Seoul/Hong Kong) and Peiling Kao (Taiwan/Honolulu).

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Gerald Casel is a 2016 YBCA Fellow. YBCA Fellows serves as a cultural incubator -- bringing together creative citizens from across the Bay Area for a yearlong, facilitated process of inquiry, dialogue and project generation. Each cohort responds to a bold question that YBCA is pursuing, such as: What does equity look like? Can we design freedom? Why citizenship? Through their work, YBCA Fellows seek to inspire community transformation and drive new possibilities into the public imagination.

Launched in April 2016, the "Freedom" cohort of YBCA Fellows is responding to the question: Can we design freedom? This diverse group of citizens includes artists, economists, activists, software developers, architects, professors, designers, and scientists.

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