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Dallas choreographer to perform at Jacob's Pillow dance festival

Michelle Gibson leads the second line in the ¡Soltar! parade April 2021 at the Latino Cultural Center
Jerome Weeks
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KERA
Michelle Gibson leads the second line in the ¡Soltar! parade April 2021 at the Latino Cultural Center

Michelle Gibson's speciality is New Orleans' "second line" dancing and she's taking it to the renowned Massachusetts home of modern dance.

Dancer-choreographer-teacher Michelle N. Gibson has lived and worked in Dallas ever since Hurricane Katrina wrecked her apartment in New Orleans in 2005.

But her heart and feet remain in the great traditions of the African diaspora — as embodied in the New Orleans' "second line." It's the funky, free-style dance form developed in the city's neigborhood parades, which have been called "a jazz funeral without the body."

And now Gibson, 47, is taking all that style to the Berkshires in Massachusetts — for two days of performances at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.

Gibson choreographed the dances in the Katrina opera, Wading Home, which debuted in 2015 at the Moody Performance Hall. She's taught dance at the South Dallas Cultural Center, she's artistic director of the Dallas Youth Repertory Project and she created an online dance class for the AT&T Performing Arts Center called The New Orleans Original Buckshop.

Michelle Gibson and Renita "Big Queen" Blazio in the The New Orleans Original Buckshop class
Courtesy AT&T PAC
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Michelle Gibson and Renita "Big Queen" Blazio in the The New Orleans Original Buckshop online class for the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Teaching and demonstrating second line is basically what Gibson does in Takin' It to the Roots, a "roving performance" across the 220-acre campus of Jacob's Pillow July 29-30 with NOJO 7, an ensemble of musicians from the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, led by Grammy-winning drummer Adonis Rose. Takin' It to the Roots was originally commissioned by and debuted at the South Dallas Cultural Center.

Sunday, Gibson and her work were profiled in The New York Times.

Last year, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre made an acclaimed debut at Jacob's Pillow. This is the festival's 90th year; it's the longest-running international dance festival in the country, a birthplace of modern American dance. It’s hosted and trained many of our most important choreographers and companies: Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Martha Graham.

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.