Born and raised in the South of France, Gillen was proficient in music and dance from a young age. Starting with folk dance, he moved on to train in modern jazz and ballet in his older years.
India was a site of special appeal—as a dancer, he was drawn to the dance forms and he had explored Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi for two years while he still lived in France.
After graduation, he applied for an overseas job in the cultural section of the French Embassy. He was posted in New Delhi and wasted no time in packing his bags. It was the mid-90s and he was 24.
For the Frenchman, India was love at first sight. He has lived here since, mastering Indian dance forms and spotlighting them on a global platform.
Gillen says, “I love the people and culture. I love India for its celebration of diversity.” He took the opportunity to delve into local cultures, learning to speak Hindi and absorbing the nuances of living in the country like the locals.
Gillen arrived in India at a time for great changes in dance and has watched the transformation gradually occur over 20 years, participating in the evolution as well.
“When I reached India, mid 1990’s, dancers daring to step out of the classical world, would experiment in a ‘neoclassical’ way, just twisting their original vocabulary or work on ‘fusion’ or collaboration with other styles,” he says. “I did such experiments, especially with Kathak, and in particular with Padma Shri Shovana Narayan. I also remember watching very exciting work by Maya Rao.”
New-age training institutes like Bengaluru’s Attakalari and Gati in Delhi have facilitated the development of contemporary dance and provide platforms for young dancers and choreographers, he adds.
A master of many forms, Gilles has a soft spot for Bollywood dance.
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Not only has he mastered Bollywood dancing, but he has also taken the form across the world. He has been teaching at workshops and festivals in association with Teamwork Arts. From a beach in Tel Aviv to outside the Museum of contemporary art in Chicago, and the steps of the Sydney Opera House, Gilles and his gang of B-wood enthusiasts have showed off their dancing skills around the globe.
He says, “Colour, larger-than-life emotions, festivals and vibrant ceremonies are a treasure India has been keeping alive. When I teach Bollywood abroad, I share the vibrancy of such energies. I feel so blessed to be able to share a few hours of joy with people who started as strangers and who end, after the workshop magically form a family. I think we need more of such events to break away from the illusion of separation that politics and politicians want to hang on to.”
In India, Bollywood dancing is everywhere — from the silver screen to flash mobs and wedding sangeets. Gilles who has been practising this dance style for the last 15 years sees it “as a tool to bring joy and celebration, which are for me at the core of Indian culture.” His all-time favourite Bollywood dancer? Madhuri Dixit.
Invested in dance as a wholesome process of self-actualisation, Gilles is also a proponent and teacher of dance meditation in India.
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He has been running the programme since 2000, which he took up at the Karmic Research Centre, New Delhi, after years of training in varied forms and four years of association with Art of Living (from 1996 to 2000). Knowledge about dance being much more than just steps starting filtering in.
“In dance meditation, the intent is to discover oneself through movement. It is about letting dance happen in its purest essence, which means letting the higher self dance through the physical body,” he says. “Following the guidance and enveloped in the group energy, each individual unveils rich inner landscapes and is able to release energy blocks (emotions, memories, even past lives traces) and tap into fresh pools of healing and creativity.”
His understanding led him to found In Step Dance Company, which is based on these principles of using dance as energy to connect to the inner self. “All [In Step] projects involve meditation as a tool to visualise and explore movement,” he says. “My latest piece was The Purification of the White Flower, a channeled solo on my spiritual journey, finding my core of oneness beyond emotional dramas.” The performance was presented for Buddha Purnima in Bengaluru last year.
Gilles also regularly works with NGOs to express communities’ journeys through dance, and conducts programmes for underprivileged and special children too. While he continues spreading the charm of Bollywood dancing and developing new means of dance meditation, he is also hoping to learn Garba during his visit to Gujarat this summer.
From his life in rustic France, Gilles has indeed come a long way. Dance isn’t merely passion or profession for him, it’s a way of lie. “It works for all layers of your being. Fitness of the body, enjoyment of various breaths, concentration of the mind, expression of emotions, exercise of memory, understanding of ego to finally witness the what is and rejoice in the self.”