Gaspard & Dancers to perform new works in Colorado Springs

Growing up in a conservative, religious family in Haiti, Gaspard Louis wasn’t allowed to dance.

And to consider dance as a profession was unheard of. But Louis couldn’t help himself.

And now he’ll bring his professional dance company, Gaspard & Dancers, to Ent Center for the Arts on Friday.

Louis moved to the U.S. when he was 13, and eventually attended Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he majored in business, much to his family’s delight. But then he accidentally, or serendipitously, fell into the world of dance, thanks to a pretty dance major who was desperate for a male dancer to be part of her thesis project.

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“I said I have two left feet,” Louis said from home in Durham, N.C. “I’ve never taken a dance class in my life. Growing up in Haiti, ballet was not for boys. Dance was the furthest thing from my mind. But she was too pretty — I couldn’t pass that up.”

Though nothing ever happened with the attractive dancer, minus a kiss on the cheek, Louis’ life flip-flopped when he fell in love with dancing and switched his major. A difficult conversation ensued with his parents after they watched him perform in a college production of the musical “Sweet Charity.”

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Gaspard Louis founded Gaspard & Dancers in 2009. Courtesy

“I told them over dinner when they couldn’t pay much attention,” Louis said. “My mom didn’t like it much. She said you were great, and I said it’s my profession now. She thought I would be a starving artist. It’s a tough world for artists. She wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer — a secure profession.”

But his career became more secure than he and his family anticipated, as a year or two later Louis auditioned for and was accepted into the world-renowned modern dance troupe Pilobolus. He spent a decade honing his skills and collaborating on major dance works with the company before leaving to pursue a banking career in New York City. He figured those college business classes would come in handy, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as dancing, he says, and the industry was too cut-throat for his soul. And by that point he was married with a baby, and their tiny New York apartment was suffocatingly small.

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The family moved to North Carolina, where Louis became the director of the nonprofit American Dance Festival’s creative movement outreach program, which provides free dance classes for kids from low-income families. And in 2009, he formed his professional dance company, Gaspard & Dancers, with the mission of sharing his passion for the arts throughout the world via a diverse company of Black, White, Hispanic and Asian dancers.

In the upcoming performance, Louis’ company of eight dancers will present two new and two older pieces themed around the pandemic, Haiti and Puerto Rican and Haitian American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“All the pieces are choreographed in collaboration with the dancers,” Louis said. “I give them prompts and ideas and see how that generates ideas.”

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His first new piece, “Noula,” focuses on social distancing during the pandemic and what it was like to come back together and be able to touch and move freely. His second new piece, the duet “Sodo/Waterfall,” is about a sacred spot in Haiti where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in the 19th century and began to heal the sick. Nowadays, many Haitians make an annual pilgrimage to the waterfall to cleanse themselves of negativity and pray.

Two older pieces will round out the evening: “27,” about Basquiat, who ran away from home when he was young, discovered graffiti art, and died from a heroin overdose at 27; and “L’esprit,” Louis’ third installment in a trilogy about the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands.

“This is an opportunity to showcase in the dance world — I’m still an emerging company even though this is our 14th year,” Louis said. “That’s like a baby crawling in the dance world. It’s a fun program. Anybody new to the dance world will love it.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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