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Salim Gauwloos creates new moves for the Houston Met.
by Neil Ellis Orts
You may recognize him from Madonna’s “Vogue” video, back when he went by the name “Slam,” but striking a pose is far from all there is to choreographer Salim Gauwloos (pronounced “harlos,” rhymes with “Carlos”). Since leaving behind his days of touring with the Material Girl, he is wowing dance audiences with his choreography for such companies as the Orlando Ballet and the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Three years ago, he made a piece for the Met called 11:11, and was back here in May to set a new piece on the company (still untitled at press time) to be performed at their Summer Sampler of Dance on June 12 at the Miller Outdoor Theater.
Using a style that he describes as very contemporary while borrowing from classical and jazz movement vocabularies, he is exploring metaphysical ideas for this world premiere choreography. In contrast to “so much chaos going on in the world,” Gauwloos wanted to make a piece about a place where we might all go when we die, which he describes as “a place where there’s perfect harmony, perfect energy, perfect balance.”
He continues, “I’m always kind of attracted to the dark. I mean people call it dark, but there’s so much lightness in dark, too, you know. I want people to see my work and I want them to feel something. I don’t want them to say like, ‘Oh it’s nice dancing.’ So I always have a tendency to go a little bit deeper in my pieces. But it’s very enjoyable, not like you want to go out and cry. It’s always very uplifting.”
Gauwloos has a long history with the Met. Besides creating 11:11 for them, he also danced with executive director Michelle Smith in the Delia Stewart Dance Company, a former Houston company, in the late 1980s. “I love working with this company,” he says. “They have passion for dance . . . it’s indescribable. It’s a small company, but there’s so much energy and passion.”
Originally from Antwerp, Belgium, where he studied classical ballet, Gauwloos moved to New York City in 1987 after winning a scholarship to the Steps School of Dance. Given that background, it’s understandable that his current work is moving away from the world of music videos. He speaks of those days with fondness, saying he found dancing with Madonna to have more substance than most music videos—which should come as no surprise to those who remember she had a history in modern dance before conquering the music charts—but he’s now making dance that has more of a personal vision.
“I moved a little bit away from the commercial world because, I don’t know, I can’t relate to all the butt shaking. I’m an artist, I want to create something,” he says. “I had a good time, I’m happy for the experience and everything, but I’ve kind of put myself away from that. It’s just not so me anymore.” He also is quick to say of Madonna, “Whatever people say about the whole thing, I still always say I’ve never seen anyone work that hard.”
When asked if a dancer on a Madonna tour actually gets to know the star, he says, “You get to know her to a certain degree. We stay in the same hotel and we went to parties with her and everything.” He’s also clear on the business aspect of dancing in the pop music world. “You dance with her and then the whole thing is over, and then you never hear from her again.” He laughs. “When you’re that young—we were all kind of upset, but now we’re a little older, so you understand it’s just part of the game.”
Gauwloos will be spending this summer touring Europe, giving dance workshops with companies in places like Vienna and Amsterdam, but dance isn’t the only thing on his mind. When, at the end of the interview, I ask him if he has anything else he wants to say, he adds, “I just want them to legalize marriage, that’s what I want to say. I’ve been in a relationship with my partner for nine years now, and I’m like, C’mon, it’s such a violation of human rights, it’s terrible.” Still, like his dances, he ends on an uplifting, hopeful note. “At least it’s always in the limelight. I don’t think it’s going to be that long anymore.”
Summer Sampler of Dance is presented free by Houston Metropolitan Dance Company on Friday, June 12, at 8:30 p.m. at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Details: houstonmetdance.org or 713/522-6375.
Neil Ellis Orts wrote about the work of four gay comics creators in the May issue of OutSmart magazine.