Teacher Feature – Gillmer Duran

 |  Family Engagement Newsletter

Gillmer Duran has spent the majority of his life inside the dance world. Growing up in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, he wasn’t really aware of the importance and meaning of movement until later than most dancers. However, he had a love for classical music, and his need to have an artistic voice grew quickly. At his core, he is an artist: someone who loves to tell stories through his creative process. At an early age, he discovered that his voice was valuable, and what he intended to use it for was a matter of great consequence; his own discovery acted as a driving force in his evolution as a dancer and individual. 

Duran began traditional Venezuelan folk dance at the age of 11 and continued experimenting with different forms of dance. In the process of searching for his niche in the dance world, he learned that classical music made him feel something that nothing else had. When he discovered ballet, he had already solidified a relationship with movement, but ballet was the vehicle he ultimately chose to express his artistic voice and fuse his love for classical music and dance.

After training in classical ballet technique for only three years, Duran became a member of the National Ballet of Caracas, one of the largest companies in the country. At the time, ballet in Venezuela had well established roots and had a steady flow of well-known artists coming to further expand the dance community. Dancers from Russia and Europe had schools and operated companies in Venezuela, heavily influencing the training available in the country. The influence these artists brought to movement invigorated the ballet world in his country. Duran craved the world that was evolving in Caracas, Venezuela.

Duran did not originally have his mind set on becoming a ballet dancer; rather, it happened as a consequence of his love for movement and music. At first, his training was extremely difficult because of his late introduction to the art. However, he refused to give up. Throughout his journey into the world of ballet he discovered that he had a lot to offer to ballet and that the relationship was mutual. He describes dance as a “powerful tool to ignite dialogues across cultures, artistic disciplines, and civic awareness”. The voice that he had discovered at a young age, was eventually heard and appreciated in its entirety. 

After discovering a thriving dance community in Venezuela and indulging in the privilege of participating in it, the political climate in Venezuela dramatically worsened. It became clear that the turmoil was a new reality for the Venezuelan people, so he–and many other dancers–began looking for places to continue their ballet career elsewhere. Due to drastic shortages in government budget, some established ballet schools had to close, since sustaining the arts was no longer a government priority.The need for basic necessities overshadowed the countries desire for music and dance education or entertainment. 

A move away from Venezuela meant leaving his entire family and beginning a new stage in his life away from his home. This was a difficult decision to make but something he deemed completely necessary considering the conditions in Venezuela. He moved to the states in 2002 where he danced with numerous professional companies, including Tulsa Ballet Theatre, Eugene Ballet Company and later in 2011, moved to Anchorage as resident choreographer and Artistic Director of the Alaska Dance Theatre. However, as Duran’s time as a company ballet dancer came to an end, he began teaching and continued to choreograph, delving into the world of professional choreography. He shared that one of the first pieces he ever created was about channeling the experiences he endured leaving his country and watching it spiral into a place that he could barely recognize. He describes it as the story of eventually having to let go of everything you love or grow attached to.

His background in ballet is extensive, and his journey to find ballet was equally long and inspiring. All of these experiences inform his works and how he chooses to bring them to fruition. A ballet class or rehearsal with Mr. Duran is unlike any other. His artistic choices speak for themselves, but the way he chooses to build work with dancers is truly magical. He frequently stops class and rehearsal to share wisdom about movement and what it means to him. Seldom do ballet students have a teacher that is encouraging and genuine in their intent, but he truly is clear about why he does what he does. He understands first hand the experiences that a ballet dancer endures and sympathizes with the struggles of a dancer. A day does not go by where his genuine love for ballet doesn’t translate into how he interacts with every single student. Nina Medanic, a student in his classical core class, says, “his love for dance is reflected in his teaching style.” It is clear that his love is not only for movement but also teaching and choreographing.

Although this is his first year teaching at ASA, it is safe to say that the impact he has on his students will never fade. Sydney Sears, another student in his ASA ballet class, says. “Mr. Duran’s teaching has brought new life to our class and dancing. With a focus on not only technique but stage presence. Mr. Duran teaches in a way that encapsulates the beauty of ballet”. His commitment to bettering every one of his students and providing them the tools to be successful is astounding.