Go Deeper

The A.W.A.R.D. Show! – Artist Profile: Gabrielle Revlock

Posted June 10th, 2009

SHARE! from Gabrielle Revlock on Vimeo.

For a brilliant artist, I’m a little surprised how much award-winning choreographer Gabrielle Revlock reminds me of a high school friend or an older sister. I expected to meet a mad scientist of sorts whose surplus of creativity would make her speak in code. Such is not the case with Gabrielle. She exudes energy, but is so approachable that I gratefully abandoned my role as interviewer-gathering-esoteric-pearls-of-insight, and had a nice chat instead.

Revlock grew up in West Philly* and attended J.R. Masterman High. She graduated as valedictorian, “something that would surprise people,” she says. Revlock began dance early, but never considered focusing on it in college. “I started ballet around age eight,” she says. “I loved it but I definitely had phases when it was just something I did, and times when I dreaded going to class. But I knew I had to get through the chore part to reach the better part.”

“[For college], a dance school wasn’t even on the radar,” says Revlock, who decided on Vassar College instead. “I was focused on academics. But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t continue . . . I liked Vassar partly because it had a really good dance program but it wasn’t a major.”

Revlock majored in art history, though she no longer gets much chance to wield her knowledge of 17th century Dutch paintings. “Through the lens of art, you learn about everything else,” she says. “And looking at art is a lot like choreography in a way. It’s open to interpretation. You can make up your own story.”

After graduation the path turned, and Revlock found herself back in Philly public schools, this time teaching chemistry labs. “I was never a science person,” she says. “I was just happy to have a job. It was fun, but sometimes very frustrating. I’m glad I did it, but I knew it wasn’t a track I wanted to stay on.”

The track she was looking for turned out to be back in the dance studio. And luckily, her family was on board. “My mom is seriously my biggest fan,” she says. Though her parents were never
performing artists themselves, they’ve always been supportive.* “There are some performers I know whose families or friends don’t come to watch them. To me, that’s crazy! Those are the people I perform for.”

In addition to choreographing and performing, Revlock has also hatched a collection of other creative projects. Her website mano/damno serves as the hub for her non-dance endeavors. The site’s name is a shout-out to an inside joke.

“My friend Bonnie [Friel, who went to Masterman with Revlock and performs in SHARE!] and I were traveling in Italy and whenever something bad happened we would yell ‘Oh, man!’ or ‘Oh, damn!’ But since we were in Italy, we figured it should really be ‘Man-o’ and ‘Damn-o.’ And we invented these two characters, brothers Mano and Damno, who would have adventures and get into trouble. We liked the idea that troublemaking could be romantic.”

That’s the spirit Revlock hopes to infuse her projects with–playfulness with a dash of rebellion and a hint of romance.

Mano/damno’spilot project is Wear Your Wig to Work Day, an annual holiday that Revlock devised with her friends. “Basically, wigs just started appearing,” she says, “and I realized that they were amazing and fun to wear.”

Though at first Revlock wanted to lighten things up with the whimsy of wigs, her focus has shifted to more of a social experiment. “I’m fascinated by how wigs . . . make some people more comfortable, but others really uncomfortable. So many different kinds of people wear them–drag queens, cancer patients, all these different subcultures–and somehow they maintain this unique identity.”

Before I left the studio, I knew I must have missed something amid the whirl of dance and art and Italy and wig-wearing, so I asked what Gabrielle thought people would be surprised to know about her.

“Oh, I like that one!” She giggled and puzzled for a moment, then announced that she once shot an AK-47 in the Cambodian jungle. “I’m totally against guns, but I guess it was at some short of shooting range. Weird, right?”

With the upcoming The A.W.A.R.D. Show! at the Live Arts Festival, more performances of SHARE!, a search for collaborators, and a new wave of video and comedy ideas on her mental clipboard, I doubt this is the last surprise we’ll soon hear from Gabrielle.

“I have a long list of things,” she says. “So many ideas.”

–Mara Miller

*Corrections: Originally, this article identified Gabrielle Revlock as growing up in South Philly. She grew up in West Philly, but currently resides in South Philly. Additionally, we ill-described the work of her parents. We regret the errors.