Creating Connections: An Interview with Caroline Firmin and Francesca Romo of Gallim Dance Company

Image by "I Can See Myself in Your Pupil" video courtesy of Gallim Dance Company Video courtesy of Gallim Dance Company.

I was completely mesmerized by the Gallim Dance Company's astounding performance of "I Can See Myself in Your Pupil" on Friday night. So when I saw a familiar tall, curly haired woman walk past me in Marion Square yesterday, I couldn't keep quiet.

"Excuse me!  But are you a member of the Gallim Dance Company?" Turns out she was.

It was Caroline Fermin, member of the company from New York City, and one of the fantastically talented performers I had watched dance her heart out Friday night. She was incredibly kind, and gracious enough to agree to an interview with me and one of her fellow performers and Rehearsal Director of Gallim, Francesca Romo.

A few hours later, I hear a voice from behind me in the park, "Hello!"  I turn around and it's the two lovely ladies, ready to answer my questions. We grab a table under a tree in the park, and settle into our seats amongst the warmth of a typical sticky, summer Charleston afternoon.

These beautiful wonderful young women are so humble, they begin asking questions about local landmarks in the park, and I am more than happy to inform them, and they are truly fascinated.  Then they begin asking ME questions about myself, and I am more than happy to introduce my background.  Turns out, Caroline and I are both from Houston, Texas, and Fran, from London, England.

Read more stories on this subject in our Spoleto topic page."So, how did you both get into dancing?  I'm assuming it was from childhood.  And what brings you to Gallim?"

Fran:  "I came over from London in 2006, for work, and New York City was the place to be.  I had been with the Richard Alston Dance Company for a while, and everything had become mundane, and mediocrity isn't my thing.  After I moved, I began attending workshops, and I ran into Andrea (Gallim's artistic director and choreographer) at a workshop.  I had been watching her all week, and I thought 'I MUST go speak to her!'  At the end of the week, I did, and she admitted to watching me all week too!  And it just went from there, and we began rehearsing."

Caroline: "I attended school in New Orleans, and then at The Julliard.  Of course, we've both been dancing since childhood, with a background in ballet.  The very classical, pleasing, well-funded ballet.  But I became frustrated with this, as there is no room for interesting work to happen....something exciting, young, fresh and current.  Why do the same dance for 50 years?  Not that it's not important to keep doing those dances, but why isn't there any room for innovation?  There seems to be a growing restlessness in the arts world, a wave of 'new' ideas."

Fran: "and that wave is coming with pop culture as well."

I then inform them about a growing reslestness that also exists down here in "new" Charleston, and the seemingly endless battle between innovation and classic Charleston traditions of art, technology, performance, and creativity.  I hate to admit, but I am slightly comforted by the fact that Charleston isn't the only place suffering from the oppressive "old ways," but am even more encouraged by the fact that there are others out there, fighting to break down these barriers in their own realms.

By now, I am not merely just asking questions, but we've gone into a full-blown discussion of imagination and creative revolution.

Fran: "What I love about Gallim is that we're collaborators, not just dancers."

Caroline; "yes, we all have varied interests that we bring into our performance.  From our music, to watching Lady Gaga videos.  Some of us are into sports, all of these things come into play."

Fran: "Yes, and with technology and the internet and things like YouTube, there is an endless pit of inspiration.  Why not use these tools?!  And Andrea, her imagination is so stretched...and then there's our imaginations, and they cross over with hers.  It's an incredible connection, and those don't happen often.  I am so glad to be a part of it."

Caroline: "What I like the most about Andrea, is that she brings the audience into the performance.  She makes them uncomfortable, in a good way.  She brings them into our reality.  For instance, our costume changes are done openly on the side of the stage during this show, which is unique to this run here in Charleston - we've never done that before.  The audience can see us panting, sweating, changing, and chugging water.  It's our reality, and there is beauty in bringing the audience into seeing that.  Andrea does that every show.  She brings them in in some way."

I then point out "Yes, that is quite apparent!  And this really makes some people uncomfortable, and they don't like it.  You got a pretty tough review from another publication here in town, what to you think about that?"

Fran: "yes!  I heard about that, I want to read it!"

Caroline: "Well, it's not for everyone.  People just need to let go, and embrace new ideas and thoughts.  People get comfortable in their way of thinking.  When people are brought something new,"

Fran: "It's a sort of confusion.  The don't understand, so they criticize.  You must open yourself to it, to learn, to understand.  Our movements, our performances encourage people to let go.  Go home and look in the mirror, and make the same crazy faces we do in our performance.  Or move your body the way we do!"

I then point out the uniqueness of their wardrobe for the show.  It's not the usual fancy and elegant costumes that you see in normal performances.  They are real, street clothes.  bright colors, frilly dress, plaid shirts.  Clothes that real people can associate with, and feel, and are equally as brilliant visually on stage.  "Do you feel that people connect with this as well?"

Fran: "well, we obviously do not have a wardrobe person on hand.  So we had to purchase our wardrobe from stores.  And they are regular clothes, people wear daily from American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, that anyone could wear."

Caroline: "Each dress makes you feel and move differently.  For instance, you won't feel the same in a bright, sequined jacket as you do in a floral dress from another dancer's grandmother."

Fran: "Yes, I would say it's very real to people.  And this another connection Andrea creates as well.  For one particular dance, "Snow," there is us four women, dancing in muted, sort of sack-like dresses.  And Andrea once thought "Well, should you keep on your other dresses (that are more feminine)."  And she said "No, I don't want the audience to read into it too much."  We already shouting loud words like "Democracy" and "Freedom," these words loaded with political innuendos.  She decided no, to keep it simple.  Keep us unidentifiable....these 'women.'"

Caroline: "And this is all part of this new way of thinking.  And the audience needs to work too!  We're not gonna hand everything over to you.  We're going through something, obviously, but we're not gonna just turn up the dial everytime we don't get and audience reaction.  They must meet us somewhere."

Fran: "And each audience member's reaction is unique.  We just hope to create that connection, provoke that thought, that new way of thinking."

I then admit to them that I cried during their performance, and after hearing that they look like they are going to cry themselves.

Caroline: "Ah! We love to hear that.  We get so tired of hearing 'That was great.  That was lovely.'  Sometimes, I LIKE hearing that we're awful.  For instance, my Father overheard an old man in the bathroom during intermission the other night, complaining about how awful it was.  And I LOVE hearing that.  It's real.  It's what people are really thinking.  people need to trust their gut reaction, their initial feeling.  That's what we're looking for. If you want to laugh, laugh!  Cry, cry!"

Fran: "Yes, at the end of the day, we're all human.  And this show is our blood, sweat and tears.  We just want people to connect.  We can all be looney and crazy,"

Caroline: "Or tender or upset, or angry.  There's no grand allusion.  There's no magic."

I then point out that it is the sharing of their reality actually does create magic, it creates a connection, and they agree.

They then ask what is next for me, and I express my growing inner tensions with the 'stifling' creative climate I appear to be in, and I explain to them TheDigitel, and how we ourselves, are constantly pushing, striving for innovation in news reporting, and the strides we make, and the roadblocks we face.  We then all agree, that it takes people like us, like the members of the Gallim Dance Company, and the staff and supporters of TheDigitel, the artists, the revolutionairies, the daredevils, the movers and shakers of Charleston, New York, and the world to support each other, and our "new" way of thinking, in order to make any real progress.

We end our conversation with big hugs and wishes of luck.  "If your ever in New York," "And if your ever in Charleston!" exchanges are made, and I feel much lighter, much happier, and refreshed in knowing that there are wonderful, positive and incredibly talented, hardworking folks like Caroline and Fran in the world, and that they also have so much of the passion and determination that I see in a lot of my creative colleagues down here in Charleston.

I was truly honored and thankful to meet such determined, brave, and daring young souls who also aren't afraid to express their convictions and imaginations.  And then I realize, with people like us in the world, there is hope for "new" Charleston, "new" New York, and the "new" world.  The "new" creative, the "new" way of thinking.