For the eighth year in a row, Durham-based modern dance company Gaspard&Dancers will take the stage at Duke’s Reynolds Industries Theater, Sept. 15 and 16, premiering a new work called “Pothos.”

But how does the company’s founder, Haitian-born Gaspard Louis, plan to keep things fresh? By using themes from last year’s performance, but going “darker” with “Pothos,” the centerpiece of this year’s event.

Last year, the focal point of the night was the premiere of “Portrait,” Louis’ piece that drew from the colorful (yet grim) work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti artist turned celebrated painter. When Louis first saw Basquiat’s work, he didn’t know what to make of the paintings. But after delving into Basquiat’s story, he knew had a new source of inspiration.

“Half-Haitian, half-Puerto Rican; he was born in Brooklyn,” Louis said. “He was one of the most well-respected African-American expressionist artists. … He’s Haitian, I’m Haitian. I know where he came from.”

Basquiat was affected by his Haitian-born father’s disapproval of his life as an artist, and Louis recalled similar experiences from his own life when he bucked his parents wishes by studying dance in college. It worked out OK — Louis danced with well-known dance troupe Pilobolus for a decade, and he founded Gaspard&Dancers in 2009.

‘Pothos’ evokes ‘anger’

The premiere of “Pothos” will keep with the inspiration of Basquiat but develops from aspects of the short-lived artist’s personality and emotions, including everything from happiness to depression, Louis said. If “Portrait” was bright yellows and reds, “Pothos” is dark grays, he added.

“‘Pothos’ is Greek. It means ‘longing for,'” Louis said. “What ‘Pothos’ evokes is anger and frustration.”

The six dancers in “Pothos” will begin by each conveying a different aspect of Basquiat’s personality, and after some improvisation, the dance will evolve from there, Louis said. The dancers will sport costumes designed by New York-based Mahalia Stines, who’s Haitian-American.

Leading up to the performance, Gaspard&Dancers are in the studio at least seven hours a day, practicing moves like the athletic lifts the company prides itself on. “We’re lucky to have a wonderful cast and great dancers,” Louis said. “We all love each other, so it’s really fun to be in the studio.”

But the whole night can’t be compared to muted colors. The performance will include another premiere, called “In-Side a Song,” plus pieces that Gaspard&Dancers have showcased before, “Tota Pulchra Es-You Are All Beautiful” and sensual duet “Deux.”

In addition, a quartet of local dancers will give a guest performance of “4 X 4,” choreographed by Gerri Houlihan of the American Dance Festival School.

Louis is excited that “Pothos” is premiering in Durham before Gaspard&Dancers takes it to New York City’s Pace University for another performance.

“Durham is the happening place, the hub, the coolest place in N.C. for the arts,” he said.

Ticket prices for the Sept. 15 and 16 performances range from $15 to $28. Purchase here.

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