Phenomenal choreography executed by a stellar company of character-conscious dancers was a chief highlight of Dayton Ballet’s remarkable and thrillingly theatrical production of “The Great Gatsby” this fall.
Among the array of memorable performers was Paul Gilliam, whose dynamic physicality and aggression bolstered his knockout portrayal of Daisy Buchanan’s wealthy husband Tom, whose passionate affair with Myrtle Wilson has tragic consequences.
A native of Tishomingo, Okla., Gilliam, 36, is currently in his 12th season with Dayton Ballet, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary season. He received his ballet training in Ardmore, Okla., and finished it in 2002 at the Houston Ballet Academy. His company credits include Renfield in “Dracula,” Peter in “Peter Pan” and D’Artagnan in “The Three Musketeers” to name just a few. He was also a featured artist in “Trinity.”
He will soon alternate roles in holiday staple “The Nutcracker,” specifically the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier and the Russian divertissement. The family-friendly production, featuring the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, is slated Dec. 15-23 at the Schuster Center.
Here’s your chance to get to know this talented artist who continues to leave indelible impressions within one of the city’s most treasured arts organizations.
Meet our Daytonian of the Week, Paul Gilliam.
When did you begin dancing and what prompted your love of dance?
November 1992. And in all honesty, girls! LOL! My mother put me in piano lessons at the age of 7, but I wanted to play sports more than play piano. So, when my mom asked if I wanted to take dance classes when I was 13, my first thought was no. But she explained that the mother of the girl I had a crush on was going to drive us the 15 miles to the next town, where the closest studio was, and we could ride together. I automatically said yes! When I arrived at the studio for my first class, I quickly realized there were about 10 other girls there who were beautiful as well. Also, having had piano lessons I had an appreciation and understanding of classical music. Therefore mixing athletics and music wasn’t too difficult for me and was very enjoyable.
Who influenced you in dance or are your favorite choreographers?
First is my original teacher Kathy Capshaw-McKay. She taught me how to perform, which to me is the most valuable lesson for a dancer. Claudio Muñoz taught me technique and the subtleties of gestures. Ben Stevenson taught me how to express through my technique. Dermot Burke helped me find enlightenment through performance/dance. As far as choreographers, I have enjoyed taking things from Jorma Elo, Jiri Kylian, Nacho Duato and Septime Weber.
What do you feel are the inherent qualities to sustain longevity in dance?
First and foremost, enjoy life. If a dancer isn’t enjoying their situation or the things they do, then it’s important to find what makes them happy. Dance is expression of life through movement and if you find that then it can continue as long as your body will allow. Finding the right ballet company is also essential to happiness in my opinion. It’s also important to cross train, find weak spots to improve and be physically healthy.
What have been some of your favorite or most challenging roles as a member of Dayton Ballet?
“Trinity” third moment lead, Escamillo in “Carmen” and Ugly Stepsister in “Cinderella.” But maybe Cavalier has been one of the toughest for me. It is created for a dancer with long limbs and elegance. I’m short and powerful, which doesn’t always go with elegance. I definitely have more mental work with Cavalier. It’s difficult to play that character since it’s not natural for me.
Looking back, which Dayton Ballet productions are you most fond of?
“Carmen,” “Trinity,” “Giselle,” “The Great Gatsby,” and many repertory shows.
What do you love the most about Dayton's arts scene?
The support and love for the arts from genuine people.
In what ways would you like to see Dayton's arts scene improve?
Finding a niche in the national or world scene. I feel as though it should have better representation throughout the country as to the quality of work we all put on the stage here in Dayton.
What are some of your favorite Dayton locations/spots/venues?
Taqueria Mixteca, India Chaat Cafe, The Barrel House, Lihn’s Bistro, Joe’s Pizzeria, White Lotus, South Park Tavern.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about Dayton?
That it’s dead socially and artistically.
What inspires you the most about Dayton?
Hard working people and hope.
What are your hopes for the future of Dayton Ballet?
I hope we will be considered a great regional American ballet company. I also hope we would be more revered within the organization (particularly) that we are successful and have more of a following than other classical art forms. I absolutely feel dance is more accessible to Midwestern Americans since it makes a larger presence on television. It seems we have been seeing the benefits of that in our recent ticket sales. I hope we can continue that relevance in the community.