Florida Dance Association's Winterfest Celebrates Gerri Houlihan with a Retrospective

Some claim Miami has no memory. Maybe, but no one is forgetting teacher, choreographer, and erstwhile Miami-resident Gerri Houlihan. A former soloist with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, and schooled in Martha Graham and Jose Limon technique, Houlihan remembers as much as anyone alive about the making of modern dance in the United States.

Now on the faculty at Florida State University, Houlihan left an indelible mark in South Florida during her stint as a teacher at the New World School of the Arts and artistic director of the Miami-based Houlihan and Dancers in the 1990s. Her legacy will be celebrated with a retrospective at the Florida Dance Association's Winterfest this Thursday.

Former Houlihan dancer Jennifer Nugent with collaborator Paul Matteson
Former Houlihan dancer Jennifer Nugent with collaborator Paul Matteson
Bob Handelman

There is no greater testament to Houlihan's influence than the imminent

ascendance of her favorite student, Robert Battle, now the

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artistic director for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. "Robert is

the person who reminds me the most of myself at the start of my career,"

Houlihan beams over the phone from Tallahassee. "He was always able to

dance the movements with the style, phrasing, and nuance that I saw in

my mind's eye."

Also bearing witness is former Houlihan dancer Jennifer

Nugent, now with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and a

celebrated choreographer in her own right. She'll return to the Miami

stage for the retrospective as a guest artist along with Nugent's

frequent collaborator Paul Matteson. 

Typically, Houlihan reminisces more about the dancers she worked with

than the dances she devised. "I am so appreciative of the many

incredible dancers who were such an important part of the company, and

also so responsible for my growth as an artist," she says. "I hope that

people will feel that deep connection and the joy in the dancing."

So it should be no surprise that she pays homage to her teachers as

well. "Anthony Tudor, my teacher at Juilliard and an extraordinary

choreographer, was a huge influence," she says of the Brit who played a

critical role in formation of the American Ballet Theater.  "His

musicality, wit, and ability to find connections between classical

ballet and contemporary dance made him way ahead of his time."  

On her way to see the new Natalie Portman film Black Swan, purported to

do for ballet what Hitchcock's Psycho did for showers, Houlihan says the

time for innovative dance has come. "Dance is everywhere now," she

exclaims. "Old models for training and creating work are constantly

being challenged. Personally, I am always delighted to see pure, simple,

committed, smart, heartfelt dancing of any kind!"

Share the enthusiasm at the Gerri Houlihan & Houlihan & Dancers

Retrospective at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday at the New World

School of the Arts (25 NE Second Street, Miami). Call 305-310-8080 or visit

floridadanceassociation.org. Tickets cost $15, $10 for

students/seniors, and $8 for FDA Members.

-- Nelson Hernandez from artburstmiami.com

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