Choreographer Gail Gilbert turns her sculptures into performers in ‘Warp & Weft’

Gail Gilbert’s “Aeoliana.” part of Warp & Weft inside the Rotunda Gallery.
Photo: Wade Vandervort

Fabric, metal, wood and stones—these are the seemingly inert building blocks of Gail Gilbert’s show Warp & Weft. But in this artist’s hands, these materials come to life. Fabric billows like a sail, moved by an invisible wind. Steel strips undulate upward; they look like they could fly away if not for the large stone holding them down.

The show’s title refers to the mechanics of weaving fabric. The “warp” is the stable threads, while the “weft” weaves in and out. Both stability and movement are needed to create the finished product, equal parts limber and strong.

Gilbert’s own life can be seen as a balance between warp and weft. As a lifelong dancer and actor—she plays the nursemaid in Cirque du Soleil’s —Gilbert manifests other people’s visions. As a choreographer and visual artist, she uses dancers and materials to realize her own. Performing is ephemeral; a metal sculpture lasts. She needs all the yins and yangs to reach her own sense of balance.

'Warp & Weft' by Gail Gilbert

Perhaps for those reasons, Gilbert is inspired by the natural cycle of destruction and renewal. She wants the viewer to gaze upon a work and wonder if it represents a beginning or an ending. She wants the pieces that she designed and formed to look as if they sprung up organically from the earth.

As a performer, she trains to make a difficult movement look effortless, a practiced one look new. This same is true for the pieces in Warp & Weft. For example, “Loom” is a giant structure with peeling wood, blue fabric and twisting metal strips. It could be a magical portal or the remnants of an old miner’s shack that’s been blasted by desert winds for 100 years. Or it could be a new work that Gilbert built in her suburban backyard.

The artist has been thinking a lot about how the different aspects of her creative expression influence one another. “I realized that’s been my whole life—as a performer in one way and the other way as a visual artist—they keep crossing and they form a tapestry,” she says. Gilbert is committed to setting more time aside for visual art in the coming year. She’d like to build up to an exhibit that combines her paintings and sculptures together to “see what that looks like.” Meanwhile, she relishes the collaboration and synergy of Cirque du Soleil.

Gilbert loves to cut 20-gauge steel sheets into two-inch strips. “I can bend it with my own hands. It’s still strong, but it’s pliable,” she says, explaining how she “draws” with metal. “I can express movement when I twist it.” She loves how the piece changes depending on the viewer’s location. From one spot, it appears to be a pencil-thin line; from another, the steel is a thick band. “It’s another form of creating movement.” Gilbert says, perhaps summing up her entire career.

Gail Gilbert: Warp & Weft Through March 2, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., free. Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery, 702-455-8685.

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