Gala, the Russian-born muse who beguiled Salvador Dali, had a knack for cultivating feisty love triangles: Before dallying with Dali and Spanish writer Frederico Garcia Lorca, she spent three years in an intimate marriage-a-trois with French poet Paul Eluard and German painter Max Ernst. Gala had “the libido of an electric eel,” wrote one of her less sensationalist biographers.
Most critics wallow in Gala’s notorious nymphomania, breathlessly trying to best each other with tales of her bedroom hijinks (some of which even her supporters concede bordered on lunacy). She’s been dismissed and derided as an early Yoko Ono figure whose influence disrupted genius. But what’s often forgotten is that her complicated romances doubled as virtual salons for Surrealists.
Art and love were constantly commingled for Gala, who functioned as a fount of collaboration.
Minus the sexual intrigue, it’s an approach Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre Artistic Director Susan Collard can appreciate. She recently co-choreographed Salvador Dali, Gala and Lorca: The Obsession with Nelson Reyes, a Cuban dancer who lives with her and husband Giles because of visa restrictions. Giles Collard, who will dance the role of Dali — with two months of growth, his slender moustache is just starting to curl at the edges — has been Susan’s primary artistic partner since their marriage 20 years ago.
“People do not work by themselves — they work together,” says Susan. “I don’t think people can create alone. Some choreographers are stimulated by music; some are stimulated by the landscape.
“I’m stimulated by people.”
The theme of creative couples is a recurrent one in the Collards’ work. Before tackling Dali and Gala (and Lorca, whom Giles describes as Dali’s “best buddy” and who — according to historians — may or may not have slept with Dali), the Collards created dances dramatizing the relationships between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
“When you look at these true couples, you see their strengths and weaknesses,” says Giles, who appreciates the objective light their studies have cast on betrothed collaborators. “I think it makes us more tolerant of each other. We have less ego. We work better together.”
Susan, however, has drawn a more pragmatic lesson from their creative predecessors.
“With Giles, he’s an artist and I’m an artist — but one of us has to be the businessperson,” she says. “So he’s the businessperson in our relationship. With Zelda and Scott, neither were very good businesspeople — and they found themselves in dire straits.”
Gala was obviously the businessperson in her relationship with Dali, who abandoned a family fortune to pursue her love. “Without Gala, Divine Dali would be insane,” he proclaimed. But neither Susan nor Giles is quick to identify with her: “I relate to Gala in some ways, and in some ways I hate how she took control of Dali’s life,” says Susan.
However, “you recognize yourself in so much of this,” is Giles’ take. “Everyone’s a little bit like Dali and a little bit like Gala.”
In this show, of course, Giles is all Dali. Much to his delight, he gets to swoop about the stage enacting Surrealist fantasies, one of which culminates in him devouring bread. “I get to eat on stage,” he says with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy on a snow day.
“Giles is great because he acts like a nutcase anyway,” his wife offers. In fact, his casting was predicted years ago by the child of a friend who puzzled over a Dali magnet, wondering what Giles had done to deserve such a prominent spot on the refrigerator.
Reyes dances the role of Lorca, while Gala is danced by Renee Giles, who took over after the first Gala injured her knee. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, maybe I get to dance Gala,'” Susan admits of the unexpected opening. But she remembered she forbids herself from dancing in her own productions.
“You lose the outside vision.”
The vision for this show is solidly Surrealist, with all sorts of strange and incongruous things planned. Since Surrealism plays on the unexpected, the Collards refuse to reveal many details, but say the show is structured as an unadorned film set manned by director Luis Bunuel and his Spanish-speaking assistant. The live footage — or at least choice clips of it — will be projected onto the stage.
“You’re inside of the set, so when there’s a beautiful dance with rose petals floating through the air, you see the people on ladders throwing petals,” Giles explains.
“Giles and I like to try new things,” Susan adds. “We like to push the envelope.”
Both Collards — pointing to a successful retrospective of Dali’s work at the Philadelphia Art Museum earlier this year — think the time is right to re-embrace the visionary madman.
“All advertising now is based on his ideas,” Giles contends. “Things growing, things melting, things overlapping.”
Sounds like a good description of creative coupledom.
[Contributing writer Hanna Miller lives in Asheville.]
Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre presents Salvador Dali, Gala and Lorca: The Obsession at Diana Wortham Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 8. Tickets cost $20/adults, $15/students with ID, $10/children under 10. 257-4530.