An Individual Within A Group: Justine Gordon

After an exhilarating and inspirational performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company at Big Bridges last Tuesday, HC Pomona dance aficionado Whitney Yang interviewed one of the student performers who danced the piece Panorama (1935), a monumental work for 26 dancers that speaks about social protest and dance as a weapon for social change. Justine Gordon (PI '13) is a Dance Major at Pomona, from San Francisco, CA. Here's what she had to say about the experience. 


What is your dance background?

When I was little I took ballet in San Francisco, but stopped at approximately the age of ten. I began hip-hop classes and I became very involved in several workshops and small companies, dancing ballet, modern and jazz. I developed close relationships with Micaya, Alison De Oliviera and Gabrielle Thompson, all beautiful dancers and amazing teachers. I got the opportunity to perform many times and to be a part of a loving and supportive dance community in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Now, at Pitzer College, I am a dance major through Pomona College and am able to continue to grow as a dancer and artist; once again I am part of a remarkable dance community with wonderful teachers. 

Why did you decide to participate in the piece Panorama?
My mom was a dancer and since I was a little girl I have heard her talk about Graham technique; her experience with it and how difficult and demanding it was, but also how fulfilling. Having grown up hearing about Martha Graham made her name and legacy particularly special to me. When I heard I would have the opportunity to perform in a piece she had created, I was ecstatic. Appearing on the same program as the Martha Graham Company created a focus and intensity that was inspirational
How were the rehearsals? Was it difficult to learn Graham technique for the piece?
Yes, the rehearsals were very difficult. In addition to learning how to move while constantly in contraction, I had to think about what it meant to be an individual within a group and how to feel my sense of individuality without necessarily showing it. I had to think about multiple elements simultaneously for each position; how high my arms were, keeping my pelvis tucked, visually focusing on the middle of the circle, staying on the right beat and maintaining unison with the other 26 dancers. At times rehearsals were daunting and I wasn’t sure if I would ever really get it perfectly; finally I realized that is was, and still is, more about the process than anything else at this point in my work as a dancer.

What have you learned through the experience in Panorama?

Performing in Panorama really pushed me to figure out how to use what is inside of me to execute very particular and exact movement. Before this piece, I had never performed movement that was so contained and bound, nor had I been asked to move so precisely and in such complete unison with a group of this size. This approach to movement was, at first, very frustrating and difficult to access; that the shape and form of my movement had to be exactly the same as the other dancers forced me to focus intently on how to stay present and alive in every moment.

What was your favorite part about working with the Martha Graham Dance Company?

I got to participate in a workshop with one of the dancers from the Graham Company; having the opportunity to have a closer interaction with him was extraordinary. In the workshop, we were asked to create our own Lamentation variation based on Martha Graham’s filmed performance of Lamentation. This experience was amazing from start to finish. It was so inspiring to hear how one of the dancers felt about Graham and her work; to work individually with the ideas he presented and to get personal feedback from someone so knowledgeable was unforgettable.

How has this performance experience affected the way you think about dance?

After this performance and this experience as a whole, I have gained a deeper connection between my movement and myself. I have really come to appreciate the true power of showing what is inside of you in order to have an impact on others. Dancing, and art in general, is about so much more than entertainment. What I have come to realize is that if dance really does come from within and if a true connection is found between the individual and the movement, the work can transcend entertainment to move others and change the world in some measure. 

Do you plan to pursue dance, especially Graham technique, in your future?

I am a dance major through Pomona College and plan to continue to take advantage of all of the exceptional opportunities that arise in performance, technique and choreography. Based on my experience performing in Panorama, if a Graham technique class is s offered, I will seriously consider adding it to my course load.  I feel as though I have just scratched the surface of this exacting technique and would enjoy learning more.