Thursday, June 11, 2009

From Madonna to Houston's Met

Photo by Facundo Gabba: Salim Gauwloos in creation mode in May at the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company.
Photo by Facundo Gabba.

Salim Gauwloos is back at his old stomping ground at the Metropolitan Dance Company (The MET) creating a brand new dance for his old dance buddies. Gauwloos' diverse dance resume includes Madonna's Blond Ambition tour, her 1991 film Truth or Dare, a stint on Broadway in Elton John/Tim Rice's Aida, choreography for the Orlando Ballet and Mia Michaels' R.A.W. Salim Gauwloos in creation mode in May at the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company.

But it's Gauwloos' days of dancing with MET predecessor the Delia Stewart Dance Company that brings back memories of growing up in those gritty but authentic quarters. The strapping choreographer even danced with Michelle Smith, the MET's current director. Gauwloos fills us in on life beyond Houston and his brand new ballet created especially for the MET's Summer Sampler of Dance at Miller Outdoor Theatre on Friday:

29-95: Tell us about your new ballet, Elevated.

Salim Gauwloos: I have always been interested in the supernatural and the afterlife, the things you do not see. Maybe Elevated is about the calm before the chaos. I am better with movement than words.

29-95: You sound religious, and you made this dance in four days. You beat God.

SG: Ha, I guess I did. I am very spiritual, but attracted to the darkness.

29-95: You have a quite a history in this dance studio. Can you give me a flash history of how you went from a ballet academy in Antwerp, Belgium, to dancing with the iconic Delia Stewart? She was a walking Broadway musical.

SG: Yes, there was only one Delia. I got a scholarship to STEPS in New York City. Delia saw me there and offered me a job dancing with her Houston company. I was only 18. For a time, Delia even let me live in the building. I love this place, the floor, the smell.

29-95: That would be mildew, but you are right, it's a nice beachy smell. How did you end up dancing by Madonna's side?

SG: Again, it goes back to this room. Hinton Battle was here choreographing Delia's company and he told me about the Blond Ambition audition in New York. I auditioned for and made it. Madonna was famous for hiring only classically trained dancers.

29-95: How would you describe your Madge years? You were known as SLAM then, right?

SG: No one could pronounce my name so SLAM just evolved. Those were fantastic years. I was always her partner. I did the Vogue video with her, Truth or Dare in addition to the Blond Ambition tour.

29-95: On a scale from 1-10 how would you judge her dancing chops?

SG: For technique, I give her an eight. For work ethic, she gets a 100 plus. She is intense. I used to go running with her. We would run ten miles, backwards, sideways, then work out, then rehearse. You know Madonna rehearsed right in this very room when Blonde Ambition came to Houston? There was a total press outage so no one knew about it.

29-95: What happened post-Madonna?

SG: The commercial world changed radically when hip-hop became the rage. No one hired classically trained dancers any more, and hip-hop dancers would work for very little. It was awful. I had to go to Broadway, where I was in Aida.

29-95: Broadway? That's not too shabby. Did you have to sing and dance as well?

SG: Yes. A little. I had one line in Aida. It was so stressful.

29-95: How did you end up as a choreographer?

SG: I choreographed the Aida entry for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and won Gypsy of the Year in 2003, which was amazing because usually The Lion King wins. I knew immediately I wanted to choreograph.

29-95: What's next for you?

SG: I am off to teach at ImpulsTanz Dance Festival in Vienna, then back to Belgium.

29-95: Will you be coming back here?

SG: Always. I love this place; I grew up here.

29-95: I hate to break this to you but the MET is leaving this building you so treasure for a fancy new space down the street.

SG: They are saving me a piece of the floor.

The Houston Metropolitan Dance company presents Elevated and other works in its Summer Sampler of Dance at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Friday at 8:30 p.m. Free.

Reprinted from